“Until you realise how easy it is for your mind to be manipulated, you remain the puppet of someone one else’s game” – Evita Ochel
Before we had private radio stations, only Radio Lesotho existed and for thirty five years (1963 – 1998), it exclusively served the interests of government and ruling parties. Before 1998 and in contradiction of a constitutional pronouncement which outlaws the hindering of one’s freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his correspondence, the opposition was excluded from the enjoyment of this sacred freedom.
This then explains why after being granted this freedom by private radio stations from 1998, a relatively convincing narrative had interestingly but not coincidentally emerged within the ranks of the opposition post the birth and contestation of 2007 elections by All Basotho Convention (ABC).
The narrative cleverly linked and rightly so, the previous overwhelming and generally rural based electoral victories of governing parties to their monopolisation of the national broadcaster whose spectrum reached every nook and cranny of this rugged Kingdom as opposed to the limited reach of the then available private stations.
This made perfect sense. The writing was on the wall for everyone to see. The undisguised romance of the national broadcaster with LCD had indeed secured a general victory dominated by rural votes. On the other hand, the majority of all constituencies won by the ABC were urban despite being in predominantly rural districts. Mokhotlong is a case in point.
Being urban meant that these constituencies had a clear reception of private radio stations which by virtue of giving opposition politicians a chance to communicate their ideas and information without interference, exposed their inhabitants to a radicalised political narrative countering that peddled by the LCD/LNBS romance.
In essence and somewhat subliminally, a new romance of the opposition and private broadcasters emerged. This was only logical as from the onset, the narrative of the opposition enlightened the masses about the insidious exploits of the government; exploits that instinctively urged every patriot among the urban dwellers (some broadcasters included) to fight for the soul of their country. It was therefore not an unholy alliance but one premised on the execution of patriotic duty with private broadcasters on one side and politicians on the other.
In executing their duty, the private broadcasters combined journalism and activism and defied veiled state sponsored threats of intimidation for giving alternative voices a platform and enlightening the previously blinded masses. Many will remember the subsequent troubles of a co-founder of one of the private radio stations (Pholoana Lekhoaba).
On this background, it is only logical then to conclude that theirs was a virtuous romance; one driven by patriotic duty. The question then is, how did it degenerate to become manipulative as opposed to empowering the people?
Everything went south when the opposition parties they gave a platform to when denied by the State broadcaster graduated (led by the ABC) into government (between 2012–15 & 2017 to date). Instead of continuing in their task of ensuring that the corruption and mediocrity of government is exposed so that the public rejects the government and the political parties that constitute it, private stations increasingly took over the traditional role of the State broadcaster.
Was it because once the former opposition was in government, some journalists landed lucrative State jobs as Public Relations Officers or worked as other communicative officers whether domestically or abroad? It is likely one of the main reasons.
As a consequence of this carrot dangling, many have easily committed dereliction of duty by either propagating the State’s agenda or not being critical of the State or its functionaries even when things are glaringly wrong. This has been very manipulative to both journalists in private broadcasting and the masses who depend on the broadcasters for information.
To a large extent, the carrot dangling has successfully neutralised potentially critical journalists in private broadcasting. This therefore means that going forward, the masses will subliminally be encouraged to follow and elect the journalists’ handlers. In that case, the game played by journalists and politicians only benefits them. The masses are mere puppets of that game.
Who will save them when even NGOs seem to be part of the game?