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A vicious assault on basic freedoms



THE decision by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) to introduce a new set of regulations to control social media content could mark the beginning of a calculated assault on our basic freedoms. Under the new proposed rules, anyone who posts content that reaches a hundred people on social media should be registered with the LCA. Those who post content on Facebook and other social media will also be classified as broadcasters and will be subject to the new rules. If Lesotho passes the proposed regulations, it would join a small yet growing club of nations that have sought to police what individuals consume on the internet. We must quickly hasten to state that we do not agree with the proposals and wish to sound an alarm at the real possibility that such new rules will severely constrict our democratic space in Lesotho. The very idea that the LCA wants to control social media is not only repugnant but is a vivid reminder of what happened during Communist regimes in Eastern Europe before 1989 when the Berlin Wall came crashing down. The rules sound fascist and for that reason alone they must be thrown out. These are the same rules that we have seen in countries such as China and Russia, two countries that are notorious for muzzling, with various degrees of success, individual freedoms. We see the proposal as essentially a political manoevre to control information and stifle free expression. Such a move would take us back to the 1950’s when Communist regimes sought to control how their own people thought and behaved. It is an abhorrent and despicable practice that should never be allowed in any democratic society. Besides the law would appear to be too broad as to criminalise the ordinary practice of journalism. It would also destroy the very foundations of our democratic society – which is free speech. However, much as repressive governments seek to control the flow of information, they always fail; the people fight back. That has been proven true time and again in history and it will be proven true in Lesotho. We can only expect Basotho to fight with all the means at their disposal, legally and otherwise, to consign these repressive rules to the dustbin of history. We are aware that repressive regimes around the world often use such laws to muzzle the media and control the flow of information. Such moves smack of naked repression and must therefore be resisted and condemned. In saying so, journalists are not demanding an open cheque to practise their trade without checks and balances. We are strong advocates of self-regulation and wish to state clearly that we are capable of enforcing discipline amongst ourselves so that we do not abuse our freedom to practise our profession. Such self-regulation will eliminate concerns about the abuse of social media. From a technical point of view, experts in the field tell us that it is a mammoth undertaking to seek to monitor and control millions of online videos and messages that are being transmitted every minute. The question is: Does the LCA have the capacity to undertake such a massive task? Secondly, was the LCA’s decision motivated by a need to stop child pornography, extremism or cyber bullying? If that was so, then the Cyber Bullying Bill which is still to be passed by Parliament should suffice.

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