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"Broadcast media under siege," says MISA as government hikes licencing fees, harasses radio station and plans restrictive legislative amendment

(MISA/IFEX) - The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) has slapped broadcasters with a seven-fold license fee hike. The LCA sent invoices to radio stations with new licence fees, with a shocking US$3000 annual fee, up from US$400. The move has shocked the broadcasters, especially private media outlets, which have, since 2005, suffered from economic difficulties owing to a move by the government to withdraw advertising.

Commenting on the fee hike and the continued economic suffocation through the advertising sanction by the Lesotho government, MISA-Lesotho says this move "sacrifices freedom and pluralism of the media, as most of them (radio stations) are already struggling even to pay their employees".

The fee hike comes at a time when Harvest FM, a popular private radio station broadcasting from the capital Maseru, is under siege from the government. The broadcast regulatory body wrote to Harvest FM asking the station to show cause, within 60 days, why the station could not be closed.

In addition, the government of Lesotho is about to amend the Lesotho Telecommunications Act, which assigns all the licensing of broadcasters with the government to a government Ministry. The law is being amended to give greater power to the government to revoke broadcasting licences. This move is largely viewed as a ploy to entrench state control over private radio stations, possibly leading to the revocation of the licenses of those stations seen to be critical of government.

Commenting further on these issues, MISA-Lesotho says that the government's actions are not those of a democratic state expected to observe international instruments, including the African Charter on Broadcasting.

"MISA-Lesotho calls upon the international community, civil society and media to tell the government of Lesotho that it needs to revisit its position and to guarantee media freedom and pluralism as fundamental principles of a democratic state".

For further information on the state advertising boycott, see:

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