OP-EDs

OP-ED: ‘LESOTHO TELEVISION RAPES A 14-YEAR-OLD GIRL’

By Seabata Makoae

It is the 27th of June 2020. The time is 19:30 p.m. It is the prime time news broadcast. Lesotho Television shocks the nation by broadcasting an insert in a storyline in which, a 14-year-old girl of Ha ’Nyane, Thaba-Tseka, was reportedly raped by her father.

The insert in question is of a man identified by Lesotho Television as Moeketsi Tšolo, at what appears to have been a public gathering. Moeketsi Tšolo, in his own words, both literally and contextually, absolved the rapist father while blaming women and the survivor for the rape that she had been subjected to.

On a platform generously granted and accorded to him by Lesotho Television, Moeketsi Tšolo claimed that he had spoken to the rapist father, and told him that what he had done was wrong.

He however made an about face by telling a gathering, at which the Minister of Social Development Mrs ‘Matebatso Doti was physically present, that men are in fact abused by women. According to Tšolo’s absurd and offensive logic, women leave their homes to go and   seek employment leaving them with girls that are now dangerous because they have become sexually ripe. Society then comes back later to blame men for being bad.

Let us not beat about the bush, let us not even dare to dance around this issue, the comments are vile, highly irrational, and toxic. Tšolo’s comments are misogynistic and can be highly metastatic if not addressed, refuted, rebuked and reprimanded with the harshness they deserve. I must hasten to indicate that I am more disappointed with Lesotho Television than with Moeketsi Tšolo, for broadcasting these vile sentiments thus giving these views a platform fertile for a metastatic process of a deadly narrative.

I will address Tšolo’s comments, not in isolation, but in relation to what I will refer to in this piece as GBV Sensitive Reporting, which is guided by clear ethical principles requiring consideration and adherence by any media house, much more so by our national broadcaster, Lesotho Television.

Lesotho Television failed to apply a principled editorial policy and position with regard to GBV Sensitive Reporting.  Such a dereliction of duty and lack of due care and diligence can have long and lasting social consequences of perpetuating toxic masculinities and help in perpetuating sexual violence against women and girls.

This promotes and glorifies wanton norms in a country that boasts, with shamelessness, the highest per capita rate of violence against women and girls, behind South Africa and Botswana.

By this failure Lesotho Television has managed to reinforce dangerous misconceptions and negative notions of manhood, including that men cannot control their sexual urges to the point that men view their daughters as sexually ripe and due for violation that offends every decent human sensibility.

According to the UNFPA handbook for Journalists on GBV Sensitive Reporting, the term GBV is most commonly used to refer to violence perpetrated against women and girls. The subordinate role of females in society is seen as a root cause of GBV and gender discrimination contributes to acts of GBV being ignored and a lack of support for survivors. This is exactly what Lesotho Television failed to take into account.  

The ethical considerations that Lesotho Television has failed to uphold are demonstrated by UNFPA as set standards by which all GBV reporting must be weighted on, they include the following:

Impartiality: It is not the job of a responsible reporter to judge or discriminate. It is particularly important to ensure that the media does not mention details that can be interpreted as implying blame towards the GBV survivor; as it has been the case in the statements made by Moeketsi Tšolo on a platform generously granted by Lesotho Television.

If a reporter decides to mention the clothes worn at the time of an attack, for example, or other aspects of a survivor/victim’s appearance, this can be seen to imply judgment of them. Some reporters may attempt to add details such as body type and size, which can unintentionally focus the onus of blame away from the perpetrator. In the instant scenario, Lesotho Television shifted the blame away from the perpetrator and placed it on the mother and the “ripening” young girl.

Duty to Inform:  UNFPA emphasizes thatwhen reporting on GBV, it is important to distinguish between what is ‘in the public interest’ and what is ‘of interest to the public.’ Some GBV stories feature high-profile figures and contain lots of personal detail: this tends to treat the subject in a sensationalist way, with no useful information given for GBV survivors and the general public thus negating the duty to inform.

It may be very helpful to illustrate this with an example that many Basotho will relate with very well. Mootsi Lehata, a former member of parliament and former Minister in the government of Lesotho, was once taken to court on statutory rape accusations. The story became “of interest to the public” and there was a lot of controversy surrounding the public prosecutor’s decision to not go ahead with the case, with some, including me, claiming that the doctrine of “equal subjection before the law” was being violated.   

What was “in the public interest” and, which the media ought to have focussed its attention on, is the issue of statutory rape, age of legal consent and why it is wrong for grown ass men to rape young girls.

The national broadcaster should have exercised its duty to inform by (1) raising questions on what lessons the society must draw from that case to its benefit (2) the legal bottlenecks that “forced” the public prosecutor to abandon the Lehata case, and, (3) what steps need to be taken in terms of the reform of the relevant legislation in order to avoid such in the future.

Do No Harm:  Lesotho Television has failed dismally to limit the possibility of harm. Moeketsi Tšolo is a man who harbours dangerous views about women and young girls. He was therefore given a primetime TV platform to promote a highly toxic message. Therefore, Lesotho Television did not only serve to bolster many other men who hold the same views as him but many rapists and paedophiles were emboldened.

As a general rule, and on the basis of the “Do no harm” principle, reporters should be guided and motivated by harm limitation principles.

In this case Lesotho television seemed, to many, and of course to me, to endorse the harmful notion that young girls become “dangerous” children because they are sexually ripe and open for sexual violation by their fathers and this should all be blamed on their mothers.

This was particularly disturbing because it was said in the context in which a 14-year-old girl was raped by her father. Lesotho Television should have shown sensitivity and respect to people who have experienced grief or trauma due to GBV, and respected their privacy.

Through this Moeketsi Tšolo broadcast, which shall live in infamy, Lesotho Television exposed many innocent children to sexual predators who share the same views with Moeketsi Tšolo, thereby promoting that toxic narrative.

It is therefore fair to say that Lesotho television failed to assess and analyse the risk to benefit proportion of that insert, which ended up obliterating the message they may have intended to broadcast.

In conclusion, I wish to add one more ethical consideration that is not specifically a media prescription but a suitable descriptor on the work that the media is doing in GBV reporting and that is the Ethics of Care (EoC). The Ethics of Care is simply the moral obligation for each and every individual to give care because we live and relate interdependently.

In reporting on GBV, Lesotho Television is morally liable as a caregiver and the survivors of sexual violence as care receivers. In this context therefore EoC is characterized by key perspectives that must be promoted, being that those who are impacted by the choices and decisions the media makes need to be considered in editorial decision making.

Those that are particularly vulnerable deserve extra consideration, love and care. Secondly rather than applying the same brush on every story and situation, it is highly encouraged to pay attention to contextual details in the spirit of safeguarding the specific interests of those affected. This is particularly important because reporting and awareness raising must at all times be survivor or victim centred. Caring is a social responsibility for all. NW

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