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Thursday, 15 November 2007

RADIO NEWS NOT FOR THE PEOPLE

Radio Swaziland news fails as a medium for news and information and instead serves only the interests of the Swazi Royal Family and the king’s government.

These are the main conclusions from a survey of Radio Swaziland English Service evening news bulletins.

The bulletins which run for 10 minutes in the evenings are broadcast at 6pm and repeated word for word at 7pm.

To research what news items the bulletins contained I did a survey of the 6pm bulletin for five days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) spread over a two week period in November 2007.

The bulletins are unusual in radio terms because they do not contain any news reporting as such. Instead a single news reader announces the news from a script. Often the reader announces in flat tones which makes even the most potentially interesting report sound like a death notice. Nowhere in the bulletins are there any ‘on-the-spot’ reports from journalists at the scene where news happened.

All this makes listening to Radio Swaziland News a very uncomfortable and boring experience.

The news items covered are not very interesting either.

In my survey I counted the first six items in the news bulletin, making a total of 30 from across the five days. Of these 30 only three reports in the entire period were not about the Royal Family or government ministries.

As an example, here is the running order for the news on Thursday 8 November 2007. The bulletin started with a report from the Ministry of Enterprise and Employment that an overseas’ company may set up a factory in Swaziland to manufacture bags. This was followed by reports from the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry for Tourism, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Public Services and the Ministry of Public Works.

In all the above cases the ‘news’ report was mostly an announcement about something positive that the ministry was doing.

It is said by media observers in Swaziland that all stations under the control of Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS), which includes Radio Swaziland English Service, have a definite hierarchy that must be followed when it comes to presenting the news. It runs something like this: stories about the King always lead, followed by the Prime Minister, Cabinet and then individual ministers and MPs.

I don’t know if this hierarch officially exists, that is that it is written down as a definite policy, but the evidence of my survey suggests that it is true. During the period I surveyed on two days there were stories about the Royal Family and both times they were the first story read out. This was even when one of the reports only involved the King in a minor way (it was about a fund he had founded making a donation to build a health clinic).

Radio Swaziland is part of the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service which is a government department. By its own account SBIS is ‘responsible for disseminating news and information aimed at educating, informing and entertaining the Swazi nation effectively and impartially for the purposes of development and social welfare through radio broadcasts and publications.’

It goes on to say, ‘The overall role of the SBIS is to assist the Government of Swaziland meet her priorities under the National Development Strategy (NDS), and in particular towards the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, poverty alleviation and employment generation.’

My survey suggests that Radio Swaziland News fails to entertain (it really is so boring that I only listen to it when I am researching it). It is informative only in the narrow sense that it contains information from government departments but it is difficult to see how any listener could make any use of the information that the bulletins contain.

The news is not impartial since the only point of view it contains comes from the Royal Family or the King’s government.

There has been a lot of discussion in Swaziland this year about transforming SBIS into a public service broadcaster.

Public service broadcasting aims to inform, educate and entertain in a way in which the commercial or state sector left unregulated would not do. Generally, it is understood that public service broadcasters air a wide range of programmes in a variety of tastes and interests. They speak to everyone as a citizen and everyone has an opportunity to access the airways and participate in public life.

The World Radio and Television Council put it well when it said that public service broadcasting stations help people to develop knowledge, broaden horizons and enable people to better understand themselves by better understanding the world and others.

On the evidence of my survey, Radio Swaziland is nowhere close to meeting these criteria.

See also
RADIO SWAZILAND ENGLISH NEWS
BROADCASTING FOR THE PUBLIC

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