By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The European Union Election Observation Mission – EU-EOM Lesotho noted that the unofficial Facebook pages provided more coverage during elections process than the conventional media.

This the Mission said in a press conference in Maseru yesterday where it also unveiled the final report on the recent elections that has 21 recommendations. 

Presenting the report titled ‘European Union Observation Mission Lesotho 2022 Final Report‘ Chief Observer Ignazio Corrao said the mission had established that the anonymous Facebook pages filled the space that the newspapers and the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services (LNBS) failed to meet their audiences.

“Newspapers and LNBS media provided limited update on news online, leading citizens, especially younger generations, resorting to anonymous “news outlets” on social media networks, which are more actively publishing information content.

“The EU EOM monitored 41 anonymous media Facebook pages, which disseminated unverified and at times misleading content. With no fact-checking initiatives, there has been an increased risk of information manipulation on social media networks,” reads the report.

The local conventional media is generally operating in a shoestring budget while the national media is mostly well-resourced. Meanwhile, the anonymous media has been accused of perpetuating misinformation and disinformation.

The report interrogates the editorial independence of the commercial radio stations, saying they have been found wanting on their conduct which was manifest during election campaign news coverage.

It continued: “These violations of the law which stipulates balanced and impartial news coverage in state as well as commercial broadcasting, were not remedied by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA).” 

Whereas the Constitution enshrines freedom of expression and access to information, the consumption of misinformation and disinformation had been attributed as counter-citizenship public participation. The onus of the media as the watchdog for the society is that of informing and educating.

The report, however, commended Lesotho Television (LTV) on providing equitable access and news coverage. It says about half of the population has access to information as they access the radios through electricity.

It also highlighted the “poor” online presence of the local newspapers.

“In general, there is a lack of transparency of information on media’s sources of financing and their beneficial owners, who are the individuals controlling media outlets.”

The EU-EOM has made 21 recommendations of which seven were a priority.

Its seven priority recommendations are as follows:

– Strengthening the implementation of continuous civic education in the learning institutions, timely voter education campaigns, online and physical with focus placed on youth, women, and persons with disabilities.

– Improvement of the accurate and inclusive voter register.

– That IEC provides secondary legislation by formalizing and publishing decisions and rules of procedures of electoral processes.

– That the Commission be accorded budgetary independence through direct and timely access to funds approved in the national budget, and this be accompanied by strengthened transparency and accountability measures.

– That the IEC be enabled to effectively perform its oversight functions and extend them to all political parties’ expenses and received donations to ensure transparency of the parties and political campaign finance.

– That reasonable limitations are mounted on political campaign expenditures and prohibition of the usage of state resources so as to level the playing field among contestants.

– That the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)’s independence is enhanced through modification of appointment mechanism in line with regional and international commitments.   

The recent national elections have been hailed as generally fair and conducted under peaceful atmosphere by many international and regional observer missions. Some of those are, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), and Commonwealth observer missions.

On October 7, the EU-EOM Lesotho Chief Observer remarked that: “Election day was well run despite financial shortcomings and legal uncertainty. To further enhance future election processes in Lesotho, it is important to provide the IEC [Independent Electoral Commission] with budgetary independence, with strengthened transparency and accountability requirements, to improve the accuracy of the voter register as well as to introduce reasonable limitations on campaign expenditures and prohibition on the use of state resources for campaign purposes.”

The EU-EOM had deployed 22 long-term observers across the country pre-elections who were later joined by 30 short-term observers. In total, it had 80 observers from EU Member States including Norway. The EU Mission came into the country following the government’s invitation.

The Mission has since had an audience with His Majesty King Letsie III, Prime Minister Ntsokoane Sam Matekane and the Presiding Officers of both houses of parliament where they shared their findings.

The Mission also shared its findings with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs who is also the Leader of the House Justice Nthomeng Majara.

The EU EOM published its preliminary report on October 9, 48 hours after elections.