Press freedom is fragile in Lesotho. Abuses against journalists are not uncommon and the media lack independence.
On the whole, Lesotho’s media landscape is characterised by a lack of independence. It has ten weekly newspapers (nine privately owned, one state-owned), but it continues to be one of the few countries in Africa with no daily newspaper. The broadcasting sector has gradually opened up since 1997 and now has 26 radio stations – two of which are state-owned stations and six are community stations – as well as the public TV broadcaster created in 1988. The state media are still largely controlled by the government and politicians. Online news reporting continues to be relatively free of constraints, but Internet access is limited because of the lack of infrastructure and the cost of a connection.
Journalists are often the targets of intimidation campaigns, and investigative reporting on the activities of politicians is difficult. A state-owned newspaper was closed on a government minister’s orders for daring to display the leader of the opposition on its front page. Self-censorship is widespread and some journalists have opted for self-imposed exile, particularly in South Africa, to avoid having to keep censoring themselves.
In 2018, Lesotho joined the still very small group of countries that have decriminalised defamation. In 2021, it adopted a new media law that did not, however, repeal the many other laws that can still be used to undermine journalism. A proposed access to information law, the first version of which dates back to 2000, has never been adopted.
Newspapers and radio – the dominant form of media in Lesotho because of low distribution costs and the population’s low literacy rate – continue to depend on state sector advertising and increasingly tend to toe the government line and to be less outspoken.
Harassment of journalists has intensified in recent years, and physical attacks are not uncommon. There were several cases of police violence against journalists in 2021, including one in November in which a journalist was tortured and asphyxiated with a plastic bag after writing an article about a theft of weapons. In 2020, a journalist was shot at by the police and several of her colleagues were arbitrarily arrested during a protest.