By Neo Kolane
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho Chapter has joined the growing chorus of discontent at the Lesotho Communications Authority’s (LCA) proposed promulgation of Internet Broadcasting Regulations.
The objective of the rules, among others, is to regulate internet broadcasting distributed over the internet. They describe internet broadcasting as internet posts accessible to at least 100 internet users in Lesotho, whether individually or in a series; and internet posts by users who have more than 100 followers in Lesotho. The rules further prescribe certain penalties in the event of any violation.
The press freedom advocacy group this week condemned the proposed rules which it said impinge on the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
“MISA-Lesotho firmly holds the view that any promulgation of rule, formulation of policies and enactment of laws geared towards some of the maladies, malfeasance as well as deviation of the set norms has to be done in the spirit of bringing a state of normalcy and balancing the forces between enjoyments of rights and freedoms by consumers.
“MISA-Lesotho does not hold the view of absolutism, where there is no respective responsibility attached to the freedom and rights, advancing the cause of where a right of one ends is the beginning of the right and freedom of another. MISA-Lesotho is also cognizant of the reality that the platforms are created for granting citizens an opportunity to express their views and participate in the national development agenda.
“MISA-Lesotho is also concerned about the capacity of the LCA to implement the rules without political interference, as well as its capacity to effectively monitor the internet and bring offenders. Our quest is to see an informed society through constant provision of information, public education and entertainment provided by the various media platforms,” the organisation said in a statement.
It emphasised that the advent of ICT and the social media platforms has played a catalytic role in amplifying the voices of the previously marginalised members of society who were not able to access content of the mainstream media.
In another development, the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), the Transform Resource Centre (TRC) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have issued a joint statement expressing their grave concern over the proposed Internet Broadcasting rules that have been published by the government of Lesotho through LCA, and have called for their immediate withdrawal.
The organisations warn that, if adopted, the laws would pose serious obstacles to the enjoyment of expression and freedom of association.
SAHRDN, TRC and ICJ stated that if enacted into law, the proposed regulations would classify persons with more than 100 followers’ on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, as internet broadcasters, thereby triggering the requirement to first register with the authorities, before operating their social media account.
“If passed into law, the proposed regulations would also classify as internet broadcasts any internet posts that are accessible to at least 100 users in Lesotho. Anyone who creates such internet posts would be required to register with the LCA within six months, internet posts are defined as any message, whether text, picture, video or audio that is placed or uploaded on any internet platform to be accessed by the public, be it social media or website.
“Certain provisions of the proposed Rules are vague and overboard and therefore, are open to abuse and could result in violations of human rights by authorities in Lesotho. For example, the proposed Rules provide that, in the event that an effected individual or group fails to comply with any of the provisions they would ‘face heavy consequences according to what the Authority deems fit, as provided in any of the applicable Rule’.
“If the proposed regulations are passed into law, they will certainly present a range of challenges to human rights defenders (HRDs) who rely on social media to expose human rights abuses and encourage public debate on matters of public concern, including the state of democracy in Lesotho.”
The Regional Legal Advisor of the SAHRDN, Simphiwe Sidu, stated that they are currently witnessing in Lesotho a trend that is used by other authorities in Southern Africa to close down civic space attacking a powerful resource like social media.
“This especially comes after the recent resolution that was adopted by the SADC Head of States to take pre-emptive measures against external interference, impact of fake news and abuse of social media,” Sidu stated.
ICJ Africa Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said that the proposed rules are a threat to the freedom of expression, freedom of association and undermines many other related human rights in Lesotho.
“If enacted into law, these rules would constitute a violation of Lesotho’s constitution and its international obligations especially on freedom of expression and association,” Keogh said.
The Right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information is recognized in article 14(1) of the Constitution of Lesotho, while freedom of association is guaranteed in article 16(1)
These rights are also recognized in several international and regional instruments which include Article 19(2) and article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); Article 9(2) and Article 10(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; and the SADC Declaration on the role of information and communication in building the SAC (1995).
Lesotho, as a State Party to these treaties and therefore, has an international obligation to respect the freedoms of expression and association.