Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 13 (of 30)
Political Environment: 15 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 14 (of 30)
Total Score: 42 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The media environment remained hampered in 2006 owing to the perpetuation of legal harassment, government secrecy, and economic constraints. The government generally respects freedom of speech and of the press, both of which are provided for in the constitution. However, a 1938 proclamation prohibits criticism of the government and provides penalties for seditious libel. In recent years, extremely high fines have been handed down by the courts in libel cases against publications and radio stations known for criticizing the government, forcing some to the verge of closure. In August, the editor in chief of the Lesotho Police Service tabloid Leseli Ka Sepolesa, Clifford Molefe, received a US$422,000 defamation claim issued by the Lesotho Football Association's former PR agent, Mohau Thakaso. In 2005, the English-language weekly Public Eye was ordered to pay a private businessman, Lebohang Thotanyana, 1.5 million maloti (about US$220,000) for alleged defamation. Journalism groups have urged the government to create a media council or other regulatory body empowered to mediate such defamation disputes before they end up in court.

The government periodically attempts to pressure the independent press, and journalists have suffered occasional harassment or attack. Beginning in October, Thabo Thakalekoala – a prominent journalist and president of the Media Institute of Southern Africa – received daily death threats aimed at both him and his family. The threats are believed to be motivated by Thakalekoala's coverage of the October split in the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy for international news agencies, as well as his advocacy for a more independent state broadcasting sector.

Several independent newspapers operate freely and routinely criticize the government, while state-owned print and broadcast media mostly reflect the views of the ruling party. There are four private radio stations, and extensive South African radio and television broadcasts reach Lesotho. Journalists reportedly have trouble gaining free access to official information, and media development is constrained by inadequate funding and resources. In 2006, less than 2 percent of the population accessed the internet, which remains unrestricted by the government.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.