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Tuesday, 31 July 2007

SWAZI ABSTINENCE DOCO AIRS IN US


Hot on the heels of my post yesterday about all the news reports about Europeans coming to Swaziland to save the poor Africans, here’s news about a whole feature length documentary that aired for the first time this month on American television.

It tells the story of two college students from Texas in the US who came to Swaziland to tell Swazis to save themselves and their nation from HIV AIDS by not having sex.

The documentary called Dear Francis was shown for the first on the Showtime cable television network in the United States this month. It will be repeated several times during 2007 and 2008.

Dear Francis was made in 2005 by an independent production company, Chronicle Project

According to the producer’s own publicity, the sixty-minute film was shot on location in Swaziland just a few months after the United Nations declared the kingdom to be the world’s most HIV infected country in the world.

The publicity says, ‘It follows the story of Lance and Kelly, two Texas college students who volunteer for an unconventional HIV prevention campaign to Swaziland high schools. The campaign centers around the controversial message of sexual abstinence.

‘The two collegians leave for Africa with high hopes and innocent naiveté. As they begin to interact with the Swazi teenagers, they quickly discover that the problems surrounding the pandemic are much more complex than they had ever expected.

‘One exercise of the curriculum, anonymous letter-writing to a fictional “Francis,” proves to be a most disturbing window into a darker, more complex undercurrent of the AIDS pandemic. Distressing stories of sexual abuse, rape, and incest flood Lance and Kelly’s sensibilities. Anger and frustration well up as they pour over tales of students exchanging sex for food with exploitative neighbors or even their own teachers. The devastation is further amplified as we hear the horrific stories of a group of orphans rescued by a local foster home. The contrast of life experiences between the Americans and their Swazi counterparts could not be more different, leaving Lance and Kelly at a loss for how to respond to such troubling realities.’

Before being picked up by Showtime the film won awards at the Heartland Film Festival and the New York Aids Film Festival

One film critic Felix Vasquez Jr. wrote,

‘Dear Francis is not only just a documentary about helping or trying to help these people [Swazis], but exploring how these two college students, Lance and Kelly, break free from their own thought processes and really do gain a different perspective on life, and tragedy.

‘It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully written, and sublime from start to finish, and it managed in some cases to open my eyes. It really shows how two people with goals and ideals can help others a great deal through small tasks. It’s trite, but hell, it’s true.’
I don't know if there are any plans for one of the Swazi TV channels or DSTV to show the documentary. It is availlable on DVD, but when I contacted the producers I was told they don't ship to Swaziland.
You can see a two-minute trailer of the documentary here

Monday, 30 July 2007

HELP IS ON THE WAY

Orphans in need of saving; a sick teenager; school students who have to chop pencils in three parts so they can all have something to write with.

What do these people have in common? They are all subjects of recent news reports in the foreign press. They are just some of the increasing number of reports being published across the world that portray Swaziland and its people as helpless and needy.

If you look at these reports in a certain light you see heart-warming accounts of people who are well off and comfortable who wish to help people who are less fortunate than themselves.

I don’t want to be critical of caring people, but there is another side to these reports that is a bit disturbing.

Very little gets written about Swaziland in the foreign press. This is even more so when you look at countries outside the continent of Africa. Because of this people know very little about the kingdom. What little they do know they learn through the media.

For example, hardly anything about Swaziland appears in newspapers in Britain, even though Swaziland has a close historic link with the country (mostly, it has to be said, because Britain was the colonial power here until 1968).

Even though there is this relationship, and some people in Swaziland like to think of Britain as the Mother Country.

I’ve been looking through newspapers in Britain over the last few months to find out what the Mother Country thinks of Swaziland. I have to report that there is hardly anything in the papers, except in ‘local’ papers that circulate to towns and small communities. What is being reported isn’t about what’s going on in Swaziland, instead it’s about what local people in the area the newspapers serve are doing to help Swaziland and the kingdom is being portrayed as helpless and unable to take care of itself. The impression given from these types of newspaper reports is that the ‘heroes’ of the story are whites of European descent lifting up the helpless Swazis - an image that is false.

The headline on this report from News Wales sums up what I mean, ‘Swansea woman saves African orphan’ The report is about a woman from Swansea (a large coastal city in south west Wales) who worked to bring a Swazi orphan Sanele Dlamini to Wales for surgery to correct a back condition that will help him lead a more active life.She became aware of his plight after the school set up links with a Swaziland orphanage for children affected by HIV/AIDS called the Lighthouse Project, where Zulu-speaking Sanele lives.

This story of this charitable work was also reported by the Media Newswire which said Sanele, who is almost 17 years old, lost his parents at the age of four, was moved onto foster parents, then finally ended up with a neighbour, who used Sanele as a slave.Sanele was forced to carry logs on his shoulder all day, every day, and the orphanage believes that this is what forced his spine into an S-shape.

The people who want to help save Swazis come in all ages. The Denbighshire Free Press, another newspaper from Wales, tells of 70-year-old Nigel Worth who plans to row his home-made boat from the River Clwyd to London to celebrate his birthday and raise money for the charity Swazaid, a Wales-based charity which raises support for the people of Swaziland in their fight against AIDS.

It is not only people in Britain who get a skewed version of life in Swaziland. At the other end of the age scale the Langley Times, British Columbia, Canada reports that students at Ezulwini Primary School in Swaziland are sitting six to a desk. At the school, pencils are cut in three so that the 700 students of this African school all have a writing implement.

Children in Canada at Langley Montessori School are taking part in a read-a-thon to raise money for the Ezulwini children so that they have more desks and much-needed pencils and other supplies. The read-a-thon raises money based on how many minutes the students spend reading books outside the classroom setting.

Elaine Ryans, a teacher at Langley Montessori, said, 'The school has no electricity, and a tap at the end of a pipe coming out of the ground provides the only water. Toilets are a hole in the ground.

'Many students walk several miles to school every morning, and all carry a bucket of water for their own use — drinking, cooking and hand washing. They also carry a few sticks which are put on a fire over which their lunch is cooked. This meal, usually consisting of corn porridge, is often their only meal of the day.'

Another report in a Canadian newspaper summed up the stereotypical vision of Africa that is prevalent in that country's media. The Guardian of Prince Edward Island reported on a local woman called Patti Wheatley who worked at the United Nations AIDS office in Mbabne (the Swaziland capital) for six months.

Patti tells the newspaper, ‘A lot of people don’t really understand what it’s like to live in Africa. They think, “Oh my gosh, Patti’s living in a hut. She’s got no running water. She’s got no food. How does she survive?” And it really isn’t like that in huge parts of Africa.

'There are huge inequalities, but it’s important that people recognize that not everyone is dying and not everyone lives in a hut. There’s a lot of wealth, especially in the cities. ’But sometimes that’s even more strange because you’ve living in a country where 70 per cent of the population lives on $1 a day and yet I can wake up every morning and go get my latte before I walk to work at the UN and pass 10 BMWs on the way there.’

So there you are. Swaziland is not only a kingdom of sick, orphaned pencil choppers, it also has a fair share of latte drinking BMW drivers. Let’s read more about them in the foreign press.

Friday, 27 July 2007

TELEVISION ON THE INTERNET (2)


In a few weeks time we shall see the annual ‘Reed Dance’ ceremony at which maidens from all over Swaziland perform before the king.

This ceremony attracts massive attention in the media inside Swaziland and most years it is also covered by some foreign news media.

In the second of an occasional series looking at how foreign television stations report on Swaziland, here is a report on the Reed Festival that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) televised after last year’s ceremony.

The report begins by looking at the ceremony itself and then puts the significance of the event into a broader cultural context.

It includes a rare face-to-face interview with King Mswati III (see picture).

The reporter Allan Little describes Swaziland as ‘a triumph of African tradition over an imported modernity.’

Viewers who have been raised on the deferential reporting of Swazi TV and Channel S may find this report disturbing.

The report, which lasts about three minutes, can be found here.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

STRIKE (2) THE NUMBERS GAME

How many trade unionists and their supporters marched through Manzini on Wednesday on the first day of the two-day national strike?

‘thousands’ – AFP

‘hundreds’ – Channel S Television

‘thousands’ – Reuters

‘about 3,000’ – Times of Swaziland

‘5,000’ – union officials quoted by Reuters

‘more than 3,000’ – Times of Swaziland

‘3,000’ – Swazi TV

‘2,000’ – police quoted by Reuters.


And the Swazi Observer didn’t even bother to give a figure.

It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you see, hear, or read in the media.

STRIKE (1) WHAT THE MEDIA SAY


The way the story of the first day of Swaziland’s two-day national strike is being told in the news media is deeply divided.

The Swazi newspapers, TV, and radio, primarily see it as a story of chaos, looting and disruption. While for the foreign media the strike is a demonstration in favour of democracy.

Trade unionists and their supporters are on a two day strike in support of five demands (detailed at the end of this posting). Yesterday (Wednesday) saw a mass demonstration in Swaziland’s second city Manzini. Today, the protest moves to the streets of the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane.

On Wednesday night Swaziland’s Channel S TV reported the Manzini demonstration as a series of traffic jams, looting and destruction. According to Channel S, there was violence with ‘shops destroyed’ causing ‘hundreds of emalangeni’ worth of damage. No verbal or filmed evidence of destroyed shops was given and when one considers that one hundred emalengeni is worth about fourteen US dollars or seven British pounds the alleged damage was very small beer indeed.

What we have here is a gross exaggeration on the part of Channel S, presumably to distract viewers’ attention from the main purpose of the demonstration. Channel S filmed a peaceful demonstration and was unable to offer any footage of rioting, looting or damage. The reporter’s commentary was at odds to the visual evidence.

State-controlled SBIS radio also concentrated on disruption, quoting a police spokesman saying that marchers threw stones at police officers, broke shop windows and stole clothes.

In contrast to Channel S and SBIS, Swazi TV made no mention of disruption or violence and concentrated on an interview with a trade union leader who outlined the main objectives of the strike.

On Thursday, reports in both the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland were of ‘chaos’.

The Observer reported that business in Manzini was halted for two hours. The newspaper quotes a single businessman who condemns the strike.

In a separate news report, ‘Shops looted, cops beaten up’ the Observer states, ‘Over five shops, including Manzini Standard Bank, were looted yesterday as some workers resorted to violent action during the protest march. Two police officers were also harassed.’

The only person quoted in the report is the police public relations spokesman.

In a third report, the Observer, quotes an anonymous source as saying that employees at one company who did not want to join the strike were harassed.

The Times of Swaziland also saw chaos, headlining its main report, ‘Strike Chaos in Manzini’. The report began, ‘At least one person was injured when police clashed with protesters yesterday at the hub as tempers flared during the first lap of the national mass action.’

The Times was the only news outlet that I have seen that reported the following.

‘Police had difficulty controlling some of the marchers, who were forcing shops to close and they would occasionally exchange heated words with them.It was during one of the arguments that a young PUDEMO (Peoples United Democratic Movement) member was grabbed and beaten.After the beating was meted out to him, he was lucky as some of the senior police officers later whisked him away from those with batons to a police vehicle that was parked at a distance.While the comrade was being told to get in the car, he first refused and was heard saying he would rather die than get into the blue police vehicle, but eventually did.He was rushed to the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital (RFM) after sustaining some injuries.The PUDEMO member, according to the Secretary General Sphasha Dlamini, was brought by the police to the hospital, but another group of police officers came and took him to the Manzini Police station.This happened before the PUDEMO comrade had been treated for injuries on his face, head and body.’

The reporting in the foreign media was in contrast to that in Swaziland. For them this was a story about workers demonstrating in favour of democracy.

This report, headlined ‘Swazi strikers march in push for multi-party democracy’, from the international news agency AFP is typical. It starts,

‘Thousands of striking public sector workers brought Swaziland's second city to a standstill on Wednesday as they took to the streets to demand the introduction of multi-party democracy.

‘Schools and government factories were closed, while hospitals and banks were forced to run skeleton services during a strike called by the country's main trade union body to denounce the current system of government which ensures that absolute power resides in the hands of King Mswati III.’

This report appeared in a number of newspapers across South Africa the following day, including the Cape Times

The Reuters news agency took a similar line. In a report headlined ‘Swazi unions protest for democratic reforms’, it reported,

‘Thousands of opposition party and trade union members staged a protest in Swaziland's largest city on Wednesday to demand democratic reforms in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy.

‘Mario Masuku, president of the banned opposition People’s United Movement, said workers and students took part in a strike and a protest march in the commercial capital Manzini to press the government to introduce multi-party elections in 2008.

‘“We are demanding that the next elections in 2008 be open and democratic multi-party elections, otherwise we will not accept it and will make the elections impossible,’” Masuku said.

BBC World Service radio described the demonstration as a strike against the Swazi King Mswati III. There may be some embarrassed people at Swaziland’s SBIS radio station as the BBC report was broadcast as part of the Focus on Africa programme from the BBC which SBIS broadcasts on its own airwaves each weekday. Such criticism of the king is not allowed anywhere near SBIS.


The workers’ demands are:


1. Taxation of terminal benefits and other benefits

Workers demand the changes per attached write up to be effected from the 1st July 2007. In this demand, they say government should desist from increasing its revenue base by taxing benefits, even where such would have adverse effect to some lowly paid workers.

2. Amendment of the SNPF Order

Workers propose the amendment, without further delay, to allow payment of SNPF benefits to all employees who have been retrenched, on production of such confirmation from the employer.

3. Application of part X111 of the Employment Act of 1980 of the tender board on public contracts

The Section calls for ensuring that contractors/service providers paid out of public funds adhere to basic minimum standards as provided for in the various Wages Orders.

4. Consultation with the public on privatisation

In the mediation by CMAC during the 2003 protest action notice, government was to discuss this issue with the unions. It promised to provide its privatisation policy, where after, it would then engage the unions. The policy was provided, but no meeting or workshop on this topic ever took place. All we have heard is that government is rolling out its privatisation process," the union says.

Government is proceeding with the privatisation policy without proper consultation even in line with the policy it adopted.

5. 2008 Parliamentary election to be held under a multi-party system.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

SWAZI WORKERS BEGIN STRIKE

The two day ‘stay away’ strike undertaken by workers in Swaziland attracted attention in the international news media. Here is what the Voice of America (VOA) radio station had to say hours before strike action was due to start. This extract is taken from the Internet

This coverage is in contrast to that of the Swaziland government-controlled SBIS radio which did not report at all on the strike action in its bulletins on Wednesday breakfast time.

Unlike most coverage in the Swaziland newspapers and broadcasting, this VOA report gives the news from the strikers’ point of view.

Workers and students in Swaziland are expected to embark on a two-day indefinite strike action starting today (Wednesday) to press home their demand for a multi-party democracy. Although the government of King Mswati III recently introduced a new constitution, the strike leaders say political parties are still not allowed to contest general elections scheduled for next year.

They are therefore demanding the introduction of a genuine system of democracy. Meanwhile the government has warned the workers against the industrial action, saying they stand a chance of losing their jobs.

Vincent Ncongwane is one of the strike leaders. He told VOA that the government would not intimidate them.

‘There are three things that we are asking of this government. The first one is that we want the government to amend the text legislation. The second thing is, we have in Swaziland the provident fund. But we want the legislation to be amended to allow people who are retrenched to access their benefits under that fund. We want people to access this benefit on submission of a letter from their employer concerning their retrenchment. The last thing, Swaziland next year is going to be facing parliamentary elections, and we are saying we want to see those parliamentary elections allowing people to be elected on the basis of a political party ticket, ” Ncongwane pointed out.

He said it is not enough for the government to tell the public they have a bill of right under the new constitution.

“We have always said to government the issue of saying we’ve got a bill of right. But as things stand now, it is no more as to whether political parties are legal in Swaziland. Government itself has said that is a matter to be determined by the court. We are saying this issue… is okay on other things, but when you deal with the issue real participation within the constitution. The issue of individual merit, which is section 79 of the constitution makes a mockery of the very issue of freedom to associate,” he said.

Ncongwane said it was unfortunate that Swaziland is the only country within the sub-region that has so far refused attempts at multi-party democracy.

“In so far as Swaziland is a signatory to the SADC (Southern African Development Community) protocol on elections, which protocol even allows the funding of political parties, the question we ask ourselves is, why did they become part of that particular protocol when they know very well that in terms of the system in Swaziland, it is a mockery to talk of political parties? In fact at best it is a social club. So we are asking the government to honor its signature,” Ncongwane said.

Ncongwane said even though the government has so far resisted any attempt at democracy, the public would not rest until the country becomes democratic.


“We are aware there would be resistance, but what we cannot do is to sit back and fold our hands. We believe that we cannot be just the only ones in the region who are without a multiparty system,” he said.

An interview with Ncongwane on VOA is available here

In Swaziland the two daily newspapers are not sympathetic to the strike.

The main item on the front page of the Swazi Observer ‘Essential Service Not Affected’ reports that the government says it is ready to negotiate on a process to deal with the issues that are at the heart of the protest action by labour unions.

The state has, however, appealed that there should be no disruptions to the economy, stating that the no-work-no-pay principle would apply to those who absent themselves from work.

The Observer also published a full page editorial comment, ‘Nation Held to Ransom’, in which it claims that the strike action will badly affect Swaziland’s ailing economy. But it concludes, ‘We daresay the majority of the five outstanding demands are important and they touch upon the very welfare of the Swazi nation.’

The Times of Swaziland, also on its front page, takes an unusual angle claiming that people will be unable to cash pay cheques because banks will be closed. Under the headline ‘Strike to Spoil Pay Day’, the Times reports, ‘Getting paid today and tomorrow might prove difficult as bank employees are expected to join the protest action, which begins today.’

In a clear attempt to set people against the strikers, the report continues, ‘Most employees are paid around this time of the month and if there are no bank tellers, the situation for people with debts might prove unbearable.’

The workers’ demands are:


1. Taxation of terminal benefits and other benefits

Workers demand the changes per attached write up to be effected from the 1st July 2007. In this demand, they say government should desist from increasing its revenue base by taxing benefits, even where such would have adverse effect to some lowly paid workers.

2. Amendment of the SNPF Order

Workers propose the amendment, without further delay, to allow payment of SNPF benefits to all employees who have been retrenched, on production of such confirmation from the employer.

3. Application of part X111 of the Employment Act of 1980 of the tender board on public contracts

The Section calls for ensuring that contractors/service providers paid out of public funds adhere to basic minimum standards as provided for in the various Wages Orders.

4. Consultation with the public on privatisation

In the mediation by CMAC during the 2003 protest action notice, government was to discuss this issue with the unions. It promised to provide its privatisation policy, where after, it would then engage the unions. The policy was provided, but no meeting or workshop on this topic ever took place. All we have heard is that government is rolling out its privatisation process," the union says.

Government is proceeding with the privatisation policy without proper consultation even in line with the policy it adopted.

5. 2008 Parliamentary election to be held under a multi-party system.

BROADCASTING FOR THE PUBLIC

A campaign to democratise broadcasting in Swaziland is gathering ground.

Media freedom advocates are taking encouragement from six draft government bills that were published in 2007. Two of these bills deal directly with broadcasting in the kingdom. A move away from the present state-controlled system to one of public service broadcasting is central to the debate and one of the government draft bills, the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill, specifically outlines a version of public service broadcasting in the Swazi context.

Many people who are involved in the debate on the future of broadcasting in Swaziland are confusing the two terms ‘public broadcasting service’ and ‘public service broadcasting’. A ‘public broadcasting service’ is a service that is broadcast to the public. This can include radio and television that is state-controlled, commercial broadcasting, church broadcasting, national stations, local stations and community stations. It is a generic term and includes all forms of broadcasting that reaches an audience. Even very small stations such as the stations that broadcast exclusively to one chain of shops, which play music and commercials advising customers of the bargains of the day (such as you hear in some supermarkets) could be called a public broadcasting service.

The radio and television stations broadcast from Swaziland, although mostly state-controlled are public broadcasting services.

‘Public service broadcasting’ is a very particular kind of broadcasting and most definitely not broadcast from Swaziland. 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.

Public service broadcasting in providing access to a wide range of information and ideas serves as an instrument of popular empowerment through its programming. This empowerment goes against the grain in Swaziland, which is a not a democracy. Currently, broadcasters in Swaziland serve the interests of the ruling elites and not those of the people. Broadcasting is state-controlled, that means no criticism of the staus quo is allowed on the airwaves in Swaziland. Any criticism of the ruling elite is seen as ‘non-Swazi’. The Prime Minister is editor in chief of the Swazi radio stations SBIS and can decide what goes on the air and what does not.

The Minister of Information and Public Service also takes a ‘hands-on’ role and believes he has the right to make day to day decisions that affect the broadcasting organisations. This was made explicit in 2003 by the then Minister of Information Abednego Ntshangase who announced a censorship policy for state media, saying that, ‘the national television and radio stations are not going to cover anything that has a negative bearing on government’.

Public service broadcasting cannot exist alongside state control. Public service broadcasting must keep a distance from vested interests (in the case of Swaziland that’s the ruling elite). Radio and television stations need to be left alone to make their own decisions regarding business and the content of their channels. If state money is to be used to finance any public service broadcasting services there needs to be a clear understanding (preferably in law) that the state can only contribute the money and it has no right to interfere in the broadcasting stations.

Recently, the present Ministry of Information and Public Service has publicly embraced public service broadcasting as the way forward for Swaziland. In a public speech in June 2007 Martin Dlamini, Director, Information and Media Development, supported the concept of PSB, describing it as ‘a public policy instrument that gives concrete expression to the fundamental right to freedom of expression’. He went on to quote Swaziland’s National Information and Media Policy which says that Swaziland’s state-controlled television and radio stations will be transformed into full public service broadcasters, and their public service mandate will also be monitored by a regulator.

These are encouraging words but the lack of commitment that SBIS radio has to the public service broadcasting project can be seen in its own (still current) mission statement that by the year 2000 the SBIS shall be a fully fledged Public Service Broadcaster, a vehicle for providing comprehensive information for development and social welfare to all sectors of the Swazi society.

Today, seven years after the passing of the mission statement deadline, SBIS has not taken a single step toward becoming a public service broadcaster. Indeed, in 2003, three years after the deadline, the then Minister of Information and Public Information re-affirmed the censorship control the government would have over the radio station.

In truth, despite a new constitution coming into force in February 2006, Swaziland is a closed society. There is limited freedom of association, freedom of expression or freedom of action. Cultural norms restrict what people can say and how they behave and cultural elites can decide what is permissible or what is ‘un-Swazi’ and therefore impermissible.

Public service broadcasting is incompatible with the above because it allows access to all, caters for minority tastes and views (and more importantly opinions) and encourages questioning and democracy.

There will need to be changes in society before there can be public service broadcasting and the most obvious change that is needed is democracy. People who cannot understand the principles of democratic life cannot fully appreciate how public service broadcasting differs from a public broadcasting service.

Swaziland may not be ready for public service broadcasting but an important step towards achieving it would be to relax the present government control over broadcasting and encourage an openness among broadcasters so that a new professional culture emerges (this will take time). These new media professionals (and other like minded people) could then advocate for democracy within Swaziland because media practitioners and audiences will understand what their responsibilities are within a democracy. At present proponents of public service broadcasting in Swaziland are asking for a broadcasting model that supports democracy (something that Swaziland does not have)

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Last week a lecturer from the University of Swaziland was summoned to the Swazi Parliament to talk to the committee that’s been set up to investigate the editor of the Times Sunday Mbongeni Mbingo for allegedly criticizing the Speaker and House of Assembly.

Committee members asked for a seminar so they could learn what ‘freedom of expression’ meant. I wasn’t invited myself, but if I had been I might have thought the invitation was a hoax.

Why would members of parliament need to learn what freedom of expression was when only last year they agreed the new Swazi Constitution that enshrines the very concept of ‘freedom of expression’?

The Swaziland Constitution is as clear as can be on freedom of expression. Chapter III, section 14 (1) (b) on page 19 states, ‘The fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual enshrined in this chapter are hereby declared and guaranteed, namely – freedom of conscience, of expression and of peaceful assembly and association and of movement.’

Section 2 of the same chapter states, ‘The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in this Chapter shall be respected and upheld by the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary and other organs or agencies of Government and where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in Swaziland, and shall be enforceable by the courts as provided by the Constitution.’

Any how, I am a professor so if there’s any one reading this who still isn’t too sure what freedom of expression means here’s a quick tutorial for you.

First an introduction to ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of the press’. This comes from the on-line encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Freedom of speech is the concept of being able to speak freely without censorship. It is often regarded as an integral concept in modern liberal democracies. The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries.

Freedom of the press (or press freedom) is the guarantee by a government of free public press for its citizens and their associations, extended to members of news gathering organizations, and their published reporting. It also extends to news gathering, and processes involved in obtaining information for public distribution. Not all countries are protected by a bill of rights or the constitutional provision pertaining to Freedom of the Press.
Read more at Wikipedia here

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The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) is an international organization that advocates for freedom of expression. It says threats to freedom of expression go far beyond the arrest and imprisonment of those whose writings and opinions challenge the powerful – although that still occurs with alarming frequency in some countries. Governments and other forces are employing more sophisticated methods to restrict freedom of expression.

In the aftermath of 9-11, many countries have passed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that pressure journalists to reveal their sources and leave them more vulnerable to arrest and prosecution. Criminal defamation laws are being used to hinder proper scrutiny of the activities of public officials, business leaders and others.

Meanwhile, Internet censorship is spreading worldwide as governments find new ways of limiting citizens’ expression and access to information on the World Wide Web. And violence against journalists and other media workers remains an ever-present danger in many places.

IFEX has published a Campaigning for Freedom of Expression, a Handbook for Advocates.

Download it from here

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Closer to home, Matt Mogekwu, published an article in 2001 called The Politics of Press Freedom and the National Economy in Swaziland in which he examined the extent to which the issue of press freedom has become a variable in the scheming for power and status within the Swazi nation and what this means for the economic development of the country.

He writes, ‘Dialogue is an essential element of democracy; that people need to talk to the government, among themselves and be free to express whatever opinion they may hold about any aspect of national life. Press freedom should be specifically provided for in the constitution for the practitioners to be able to carry out their responsibilities without fear of intimidation.’

Read the full article here

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The International Press Institute (IPI) describes itself as a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the promotion of the free flow of news and information and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

IPI publishes annual reports on press freedom around the world. Here is part of what it had to say about press freedom in Swaziland in 2006, ‘Journalists have little in the way of legal protection when carrying out their work and there are several laws limiting the right to report. Among them, the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act that forbids the publication of any criticism of the monarchy – as a result, most reporting concerning the king’s activities involve self-censorship.’

Read the full report here

Monday, 23 July 2007

FRIENDS IN DENMARK

As I surf around the Internet I am continually surprised by how much information there is about Swaziland and also by the fact that people in unexpected places are interested in what’s going on here.

One group I recently stumbled across come from Denmark, a tiny country in northern Europe. They call themselves the Southern Africa Contact (Denmark) and they produce a newsletter twice a month which contains news about Swaziland taken from the news media in Swaziland and elsewhere.

Swaziland Newsletter, which has been in existence since 2005, is distributed to more than 1200 people and institutions in Europe, Southern Africa and the United States, among others, and to a large number of universities. Anyone with an interest in Swaziland can subscribe to have the newsletter sent to them by email – free of charge. If you want to find out more, click here

Friday, 20 July 2007

ANONYMOUS SOURCES

How much of what you read in the newspapers can you really trust?

Article 1 of the SNAJ Code of Conduct states that ‘the duty of every journalist is to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend the truth’. It goes on to say, ‘A journalist should make adequate inquiries, do cross-checking of facts in order to provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information.’

But can we be confident that the journalists are telling us the truth when so much of their information published in their reports and articles comes from unnamed sources? Actually, that isn’t quite true because the journalists try to disguise the fact that they are using anonymous sources by giving characters in their stories fake names.

Go through any Swazi newspaper any day of the week and count the number of times you see an asterix (*) against someone’s name and a note at the bottom of the report or article saying ‘not their real name’.

Another trick is for the journalist to state that they have withheld a source’s name ‘for ethical reasons.’ This trick is particularly annoying because usually there is no ethical reason at all for withholding the name. In fact, the exact opposite is the case – it is unethical to withhold the source’s name because this contravenes the journalist’s duty to provide the public with unbiased, balanced and comprehensive information.

Here are some examples of reports in the newspapers in recent days that have not named their sources: a witness to an explosion at a factory; an informant in a case regarding bogus army recruitment; an informant in a report on an armed robbery; readers who gave comments on a crisis in the health service; a nurse commenting on a traffic accident; an informant to a report on cattle theft; unnamed mothers recounting their experience giving birth at Mbabane Government Hospital and a man involved in an assault.

Reports and articles that do not name sources of information are untrustworthy. Without names the reports and articles become speculation, gossip and rumour. How can readers trust unverified claims and allegations? Last Wednesday the Times of Swaziland published a series of very good reports on the health crisis in Swazi hospitals. There were vivid accounts from people who spoke about there own dreadful experiences in hospital. But, these people were not named. How can readers be sure that these people actually exist?

There is one exception to the rule that sources should be named. The SNAJ Article 7 states that journalists are bound to protect sources of confidential information. Such cases are few and far between and usually involve ‘whistle blowers’ who are giving information to journalists to expose some crime or other wrong-doing and may be in danger of recrimination if they do so. None of the examples given earlier come from ‘confidential sources’.

The use of anonymous sources makes it impossible for anyone to rely on and trust the information and analysis that it is contained in the news reports and articles. This means the use of anonymous sources undermines the integrity and standing of the work of journalists and the media generally.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

TELEVISION ON THE INTERNET (1)


We often hear complaints (especially from journalists) in Swaziland that the kingdom doesn’t get a good press in overseas' media. In my experience that isn’t really true.

The truth is that very little about Swaziland appears in any media outside of the kingdom. One of the big problems we have is that the rest of the world generally ignores Swaziland because Swaziland isn’t important in global terms. Unlike, say, South Africa, it doesn’t have strategically placed ports that are vital to world shipping (think of Durban and Cape Town). Nor, does Swaziland have rich mineral resources that are important to world manufacturing.

Over the past three years I have been researching how the foreign news media reports on Swaziland. I’ll write in detail about what I have discovered another time.

One thing I want to share with you is some of the reports that I have found that were originally made to be shown on television. Some of these reports have been put on Internet sites so it is possible to view them on the computer.

From time to time on this site I’ll point out some of these reports so you can watch them yourself and make your own mind up about what picture they paint of Swaziland.

The one I have linked to here was made for UNICEF Television and distributed to television stations around the world. UNICEF Television is funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund and is a global news service that focuses on the health, education, equality and protection of children. Their reports tend to concentrate on developing countries.

The theme of the report which lasts about 2 mins 30 secs is ‘In Swaziland grandmothers shoulder the burden of Aids’ and it features 64-year-old Evelyn Sikholiwe Similani (pictured) who talks about how Aids has affected her life.


You can get the clip here:

COMFORTING ITS ENEMY

Regular readers of the Swazi Observer won’t be the least surprised that the newspapers is against the proposed two day ‘stay away’ being organized by trade unionists for next week.

The Observer published a comment piece yesterday signed by the chief editor headlined ‘Avoid Stay Away at Any Cost’. In it the newspaper stated: 'If there is one thing that Swaziland does not need in the present economic circumstances - it is a mass stay away.’

It went on to say, ‘It is our considered view that if labour unions should continue with the intended strike, it is the poor and vulnerable that will bear the brunt.

‘It is not the leaders that will be faced with job loses and empty plates, but you and me lowly people.’

But the Observer might be upset to find that it has unwittingly given a great deal of comfort to its enemy. In a previously published article headlined ‘Stay away: Govt calls urgent meet’ (13 July 2007)’ it detailed how the government had called an urgent meeting with workers to avert the pending strike threat by the country’s unions on 25 and 26 July.

The Observer reported, 'Despite three letters directed to a Cabinet minister and the Prime Minister Themba Dlamini, Cabinet has claimed not to be aware of the issues that have forced workers to go on strike next week.’


This newspaper report has been used as a rallying cry by members of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN).

SSN’s forum was told this week that the news report ‘even though filtered as it is through the establishment media, nevertheless announces a specific and historic confrontation.’ The forum claims the Observer article exposes the Swazi government and copies of the article have been widely circulated to sympathisers across the world, using the Internet.

The workers’ demands (as published by the Observer) are:

1. Taxation of terminal benefits and other benefits

Workers demand the changes per attached write up to be effected from the 1st July 2007. In this demand, they say government should desist from increasing its revenue base by taxing benefits, even where such would have adverse effect to some lowly paid workers.

2. Amendment of the SNPF Order

Workers propose the amendment, without further delay, to allow payment of SNPF benefits to all employees who have been retrenched, on production of such confirmation from the employer.

3. Application of part X111 of the Employment Act of 1980 of the tender board on public contracts

The Section calls for ensuring that contractors/service providers paid out of public funds adhere to basic minimum standards as provided for in the various Wages Orders.

4. Consultation with the public on privatisation

In the mediation by CMAC during the 2003 protest action notice, government was to discuss this issue with the unions. It promised to provide its privatisation policy, where after, it would then engage the unions. The policy was provided, but no meeting or workshop on this topic ever took place. All we have heard is that government is rolling out its privatisation process," the union says.

Government is proceeding with the privatisation policy without proper consultation even in line with the policy it adopted.

5. 2008 Parliamentary election to be held under a multi-party system.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

HATE SPEECH AND GAYS

Hate speech is rife in the Swazi press. Hardly a week goes by without some disparaging reference to religious, ethnic or sexual minorities. At the moment the gays are getting a particularly hard time of it.

The hate writing is so casual I wonder whether journalists actually think before they put finger to keyboard. An item in the Scene and Heard column of Times Sunday newspaper (1 July 2007) is about a performance by the all male Chippendales dance group which attracted some gay men to the audience. This the journalist found annoying. The unnamed journalist concludes, ‘I hate gays and the sooner we rid ourselves of such evil the better.’

Article 13 of the SNAJ code of conduct says journalists should avoid publication of words that might promote hatred. The Times Sunday failed abysmally. To assist reporters and their editors here is a definition of hate speech: ‘Type of speech or writing which can do any of the following: deliberately offend, degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against someone based on their race, ethnicity, profession, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. It can be aimed at an individual; or racial, ethnic, religious or other group. Such speech generally seeks to condemn or dehumanize the individual or group; or express anger, hatred, violence or contempt toward them.’

Unfortunately, such hatred as published by the Times Sunday is not isolated. Late last year, days after South Africa confirmed its same sex civil partnership law, Swaziland’s Weekend Observer ran a comment piece by Dr Ben Dlamini with the headline, ‘Same sex marriages are an abomination of the human spirit’. His words are so hateful that I don’t want to repeat them here, but the gist of his writing is that because animals do not engage in homosexual acts, men who do so are lower than animals. He is undeterred by his own ignorance, because, of course, one can find examples of homosexual behaviour all over the animal kingdom.

Ben Dlamini concludes his article by stating that anyone who is ‘afflicted’ with homosexuality needs serious medical attention and he looks forward to the time that the ‘condition’ of homosexuality can be treated by hormone therapy.

The same edition of the Weekend Observer carries an article by Pastor Justice Dlamini on the same topic. Interestingly, he too, writes from a position of ignorance. Introducing his column ‘Only Jesus Can Help Homosexuals Overcome’, he describes homosexuality as ‘the desire to be the opposite sex or belief that one is “trapped” in a body of the wrong sex’ (he has confused the transsexual with the homosexual).

He then goes on to extensively quote Biblical references that he claims lament ‘bitterly about the men who practice homosexuality and the women who are lesbians’. ‘God vows that such people will not escape His wrath’. He writes, ‘I must quickly mention that if such people are not helped they are likely to have a tragic ending.’

The Weekend Observer is not alone in encouraging hatred of homosexuals. A couple of weeks before these two articles appeared; the Swazi News reported that gays and lesbians were responsible for the increase in child sex attacks in the country. A report with the stark accusatory headline ‘Gays and Lesbians Are To Blame Here’ introduced a report that publicity about gays and lesbians in Swaziland had increased the number of sodomy cases in Swaziland. This, the newspaper reports, is according to two Save The Children regional offices that have been dealing with sexual offences. However, a third regional office says gays and lesbian practice does not have any effect on cases of sodomy against children. The newspaper’s report is clearly contradictory and does not justify the headline. Also, the reporter fails to explain how lesbians can engage in sodomy.

The recent decision of South Africa to confirm the constitutional status of gays and lesbians in its country comes as an embarrassment to Swaziland. In February 2006 its own constitution came into force and unlike the South African version, which places human rights at its centre, Swaziland’s confirms the present ruling elites in their positions in the kingdom.

The Swaziland constitution has been criticised by civic society organisations inside and outside Swaziland for not embracing democratic principles. Defenders of the constitution like to point to Swaziland’s uniqueness, often citing the belief that God blesses its traditions. These traditions include forcing under aged girls into unwanted marriages; the whipping of children as both domestic and judicial punishment (the Bible commands spare the rod and spoil the child); and the right of men to have as many wives as they chose (a practice that has helped Swaziland to the dubious honour of achieving the highest HIV rate in the world). In this context it is not surprising that gays and lesbians are attacked.

Among all the hatred there is at least one voice of reason in the Swazi Press. Kath Manson, who writes in the Times Sunday, has tackled homosexuality (especially in the lesbian form) arguing that homosexuality is a natural human characteristic and not something you can wipe out.

Manson is a voice in the Swazi wilderness. The week after one of her articles in April 2007, the Times Sunday published a letter from a racist reader in which Manson is denounced as ‘a white female’. The letter, like the articles from the brothers Dlamini mentioned earlier, expresses the writer’s own ignorance on the subject of sexuality, and goes on to warn readers about the ‘tide of western liberalism’ that is sweeping Swaziland.

Clearly, there is a long way to go before the Swazi press is adult enough to have a proper conversation with its readers about homosexuality. But until this can happen journalists and their editors should study Article 13 on hate speech and consider what part they play in stigmatising people who are members of minority groups.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

SWAZI DOCO ON TOUR

A new feature length documentary about Swaziland is presently doing the rounds of film festivals.

The 84-minute documentary, which was directed by American Michael Skolnik, had its international premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival in Toronto on 23 April 2007.

I haven’t seen the film, Without The King, myself but I can safely predict that many Swazis will find it controversial.

This is the blurb that the Hot Docs festival put out about the documentary. It’s pretty hot stuff so if you’re the nervous type I suggest you look away now.

Swaziland is Africa's last absolute monarchy and a nation at a dangerous crossroads. The people demand democracy and an end to starvation, while the king insists on banning political parties. The people want relief from a 43 per cent AIDS/HIV infection rate, the world's highest, while the king prices a fleet of luxury limousines. Against this backdrop of blatant inequality, we meet the royal family: Princess Sikhanyiso, a teenage rapper and eldest child; Queen LaMbikiza, a headstrong outsider and first of 12 wives; and King Mswati III, a distant figure out of touch with his home and country. Unprecedented access to the royals and villagers witnesses startling parallel rebellions. Terrorism and civil unrest are on the rise in the impoverished townships, where rebels will not be assuaged by the king's hollow constitutional offering, while inside the palace, an unlikely source of change makes her own plans and discoveries. The camera captures the birth of a nation's revolution, a struggle to reconcile First and Third World orders and a princess' burgeoning self-awareness in this most inspiring exposé.


I think we can safely say that Channel S won’t be showing the film anytime soon.

Without The King won the special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, but at least one film critic who saw it in Canada wasn’t impressed.

Deanna McFadden on the Chart Attack website called it ‘terribly earnest’, presenting a laundry list of many of the key problems suffered by African nations in our modern world.

She says, ‘It’s not for lack of interesting subject matter that the doc ultimately falls flat, but rather the director's stereotypical and overly heartfelt approach to filmmaking.’ She concludes, ‘Without The King is pedantic, sappy and surprisingly plain’.

If you absolutely must know more, you can see a two-minute trailer for the documentary at any one of these three websites.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o37iJhBo7VU

or

http://www.berm.co.nz/cgi-bin/video/play.cgi?o37iJhBo7VU

or

http://www.pefs.us/index.php?search=Skolnik

Monday, 16 July 2007

A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS

An attempt to give voices to the poor, disabled and the generally disadvantaged in Swaziland is gaining momentum. Advocates for community media have released their initial findings on the feasibility of publishing rural newspapers and found widespread support.

If community newspapers were to be launched they would challenge the present news media that is dominated by the needs of political, social and business elites in the kingdom.

At present there are two newspaper groups in Swaziland. A company that is effectively controlled by the monarchy runs one, which publishes the daily Observer and the Weekend Observer. The other, which publishes the daily Times of Swaziland and Saturday and Sunday newspapers is privately owned but supports the monarchy and broadly caters for an audience of social, business and political elites. Both groups distribute their newspapers mainly to urban areas.

In Swaziland people living in rural areas, the poor and people with disabilities, get a raw deal from the news media. A new initiative to create and regularly publish community newspapers catering mainly, but not exclusively, to the rural areas aims to change this situation.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Swaziland Chapter) and the South Africa-based Institute for the Advancement of Journalism jointly published a draft report in June 2007 that concluded the time was ripe to press ahead toward establishing community newspapers.

The key findings of the draft report written by Ed Moyo, a lecturer in the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the University of Swaziland, were that all people consulted in the regions unanimously favoured the establishment of community newspapers and most believed the newspapers should be in the siSwati language (the commercial newspapers and magazines in Swaziland are all in English).

The report also found:

There is a widespread opinion that national newspapers have failed to cater for
communal needs and aspirations;


Community newspapers are seen as an empowerment of communities throughout Swaziland;


The community newspapers could help to create jobs, especially for young people;


The community newspapers are viewed as educational materials that will be used for sustaining literacy. They will provide reading materials that are not readily available in rural areas.



The draft report is optimistic that the newspapers could be commercially viable. Supermarkets, shops, hotels, banks and local branches of large companies are among those who said they would advertise in the new newspapers.

There is a pool of talent ready to work on the newspapers. Students in the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the University of Swaziland could work on the newspapers as part of their course work and there are many former students of the department who have not been able to get work since graduating.

The draft report paints an optimistic picture for the future of community newspapers.

The Swazi cabinet’s approval of a new information technology and communication policy has encouraged advocacy groups to believe that there is a will among the ruling elite in Swaziland for diversification in the media.

That optimism may be misplaced, as there has been little evidence since the Swazi Constitution was enacted in February 2006 that the kingdom is moving toward democracy. The news media is still unable to publish material critical of the monarchy and government ministers have sought to restrict the media’s access to information. Most recently, the health minister banned workers in the country’s main hospital from speaking to anyone (media, friends, family) about matters pertaining to the hospital. This was after the news media reported that a four-year-old girl died from rabies after the hospital failed to get readily available drugs to her.

There is no such thing as a free press in Swaziland. There are at least 30 pieces of legislation that restricts the activities of the media in some way or another. Newspapers must be licensed by the government and any number of informal rules of conduct governs what can be talked about in the media and other public spaces. I can see no reason why the ruling elite in Swaziland would want to relax these laws and rules to allow more voices to be heard. The reason why they presently restrict the media is to control the flow of information and discussion. In this way members of the elite groups maintain their privileged positions.

There are also flaws in the draft report itself. The report needs to clearly distinguish between ‘local’ newspaper and ‘community’ newspaper.

The report describes newspapers that are published for the benefit of a group of people living in a particular geographical area that are supported by advertising from business. These are ‘local’ newspapers. The editorial content of these newspapers would not be so different from the content of the present Swazi national newspapers. I would not be surprised if either of the newspaper-owning companies in Swaziland saw such newspapers as an opportunity to increase their business and make more profit by publishing localised versions of their national papers.

A ‘community’ newspaper is something quite different. Newspapers like this exist across the world (and there are many more community radio stations), which offer a non-profit service that is owned and managed by the particular community the newspapers serve. They are different from the present commercial or state-controlled media in Swaziland because they allow a diversity of voices and opinions to be heard. This is because they are open to participation from all parts of the community.

Community newspapers can provide a platform for the discussion about matters that the community itself consider important. These issues might not be the same things that the monarch, the chiefs, or business houses think are important. And because community newspapers allow dissenting voices to be heard people who presently have control in Swaziland will see them as dangerous.

This raises a second major flaw in the draft report. The author asked members of parliament, NGOs and business houses whether they supported the idea of the community newspapers. The response was overwhelmingly favourable. But chiefs were not consulted. In Swaziland the non-democratic nature of the country requires people to defer to the wishes of local chiefs (who are in effect representatives of the monarch). If the chiefs do not support the community newspaper project, it will not happen. It really is as simple as that.

We have yet to see what position the chiefs take on the project but it is difficult to see that they would allow potentially subversive media into their areas. Instead, I should think, if they allowed the community newspapers into their chiefdoms at all they would want to have control over them. This would make it impossible to publish truly ‘community’ newspapers. The idea of a ‘local’ newspaper that prominently reported the chiefs’ comings and goings (as the national newspapers do with the king) would probably be very attractive to them.

Some of these issues (and more) were raised at a stakeholders’ meeting in June 2007. The draft report’s sponsors promised to think some more and come back with an updated report. The community newspaper project lives on.


(Feasibility Study on Community Newspapers in Indigenous Languages and for People with Disabilities, March 2007).


Friday, 13 July 2007

REACH THE GRASSROOTS

The news media in Swaziland have been criticized for spending too much time reporting from cities and towns, while ignoring people who live in rural areas.

Emmanuel Ndlangamandla, who is executive director of the non-government organization, CANGO, called on the media to play a bigger role in bringing the concerns of ordinary people to public attention so that their problems could be addressed.

A report in the Swazi Observer (13 July 2007) quoted Ndlangamandla telling a breakfast meeting at the Mountain Inn, Mbabane, that government often took notice of peoples’ problems if they were highlighted in the media.

‘We’ve seen it before that, for instance, if Swazi TV flags poverty concerns of the elderly in rural communities, government would make follow-up visits and determine the kind of response that could be provided for them,’ he said.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

SWAZI MEDIA TOE THE LINE

The Swazi media are all too ready to toe the line when it comes to their relationship with government. This observation is contained in the latest annual report from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

The report ‘So This is Democracy?’ says that when addressing editors in April 2006, the Swazi King commended the media for their ‘patriotism and maturity’ during a border blockade staged by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and banned political parties in an attempt to force political change in Swaziland. The media had joined trade unions in opposing the blockade. Later in the year the Swazi Prime Minister praised the media for a ‘job well done’.

The MISA report has got it about right, but there have been some exceptions. The truth is that media are not strong in Swaziland and find themselves in deep trouble if they voice criticism of the ruling elite, especially the King Mswati III. In March 2007 (a period not covered by the MISA report), The Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers was forced into publishing an abject apology to King Mwasti III after the Times Sunday ran a news commentary sourced from the international news agency Afrol News in which the following appeared. ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family. The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’

Such open criticism of the king is not allowed in Swaziland (not even in so-called independent newspapers like the Times Sunday). On the Thursday following publication a front page ‘unreserved apology’ to the king was published on the front page of the Times of Swaziland (repeated in the following week’s Times Sunday). The apology signed by both the publisher and managing editor of the Times Group said the article ‘was disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny.’

It went on, ‘Our newspapers take great care with matters regarding the monarch, being conscious always of the unbreakable link of the King with the Nation. What occurred is reprehensible and we will renew our vigilance in editorial matters with the utmost vigour.’

To make absolutely certain that there was no doubt of the newspaper group’s subservience to the King, it finished the apology, ‘Once again your Majesty, our sincere and humble apologies.’

This was not an isolated incident, but it is the most extreme in recent times. Sitting here at my keyboard I can think of many other recent cases of media suppression. There may be more, so apologies in advance for those I have missed.


May 2006
King Mswati III banned newspapers from writing about his wives without his permission, even while covering official events, after the Times Sunday interviewed one of his wives (with her consent) while she was sick in hospital. This was the second time in 12 months that the Swazi king gagged the media from reporting about royalty. It should be noted that this ban was not reported within Swaziland. This banning by the king simply continued a trend that had been operating since before the new constitution, for example, in 2005, the king ordered the media to stop writing about his lavish spending after newspapers published that he had purchased US$500,000 worth of luxurious vehicles for his 13 wives.

October 2006
Parliament ordered the Times of Swaziland to apologise for an opinion expressed in the newspaper that referred to a select committee that investigated the operations of the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service as a ‘kangaroo court’.

In an editorial the Times declined to apologize thus: ‘We are of the view that parliament has seriously been ill-advised by the select committee in its recommendation, which has not only caused the House to violate a constitution passed by itself, but also seeks to deny the author of the article his fundamental right to freedom of expression.’

November 2006
The Public Services and Information Minister S’gayoyo Magongo instructed Swazi TV to reinstate an employee the station wished to dismiss (Swazi TV complied with the instruction). In Parliament the minister said Section 75 of the constitution empowered him to do this as it charges ministers with responsibility ‘for the policy and general direction and control’ over their departments'.

December 2006
Members of the ruling elite in Swaziland resent the media when they public views that run contrary to its own. The Times of Swaziland came under attack a by a committee that was putting together a case to demand the return from neighbouring South Africa of land that Swaziland claimed belonged to it. At a press conference members of the committee including the chair Prince Khuzulwandle, a member of the Royal Family, criticised the newspaper for collecting views on the issue from members of the public. The response the newspaper received was hostile to the demand for restoration prompting the committee to question why the newspaper asked ordinary people instead of people who were knowledgeable on the subject.

The Times’ response (in an editorial in the newspaper) was to reassert its readers’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech.

March 2007
In one of the more bizarre examples of media restriction controversial church pastor Justice Dlamini threatened two journalists with death through divine intervention.
Dlamini (who incidentally writes a regular column in the Weekend Observer newspaper) shocked a church gathering, which also included cabinet ministers, when he declared from the pulpit that he was praying for the death of two journalists, Times of Swaziland managing editor Martin Dlamini and reporter Nhlanhla Mathunjwa, whom he claimed wrote badly about him.
This followed a story published by the Times of Swaziland in which the pastor was said to have been involved a squabble over a church vehicle with one of his subordinate pastors.

June 2007
The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Njabulo Mabuza, banned health workers from talking to the media in response to a number of stories highlighting the impact of a critical drug shortage.

Workers were forbidden to have any type of communication, including interviews and casual or ‘indiscreet’ conversations, whether at clubs, hotels, bars or private parties. Journalists were also barred from Mbabane Government Hospital, the country's key medical facility, whose problems have been highlighted in the press. These problems were considered by the press to be typical of the wider crisis afflicting the healthcare system.

On 23 June, the Times of Swaziland experienced the effects of the Minister's censorship order when its photographer, Albert Masango, was denied access to the hospital. Hospital security harassed and pulled Masango out of the premises and carried him out to the gate.
Amid Masango's protestations, the security personnel stressed that, in accordance with a new ‘law’, permission had to be obtained from either the Minister or his Principal Secretary before the media would be allowed to cover anything inside the hospital.

An official at a health facility in the central town of Manzini was quoted by the IRIN news agency that the regulation barring health personnel from speaking with the media was not new. ‘In fact, it began three ministers ago, but it is now being enforced because of all the stories about deaths in government hospitals.

July 2007
The Swazi House of Assembly set up a select committee to investigate the editor of the Times Sunday following a comment piece the newspaper ran criticising the House Speaker for not allowing a debate to take place on possible amendments to the kingdom’s constitution. The House of Assembly said the editor was in contempt of Parliament. The editor, Mbongeni Mbingo faces a maximum two-year prison sentence if found guilty.



The MISA report, which looked at the year 2006, concluded that the media environment in Swaziland was worsening with the survival instincts of newspapers resulting in self-censorship and journalists shifting their focus to soft stories, involving mainly crime. The need for the media to unite and fight for their freedoms is greater than ever before.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

EDITOR INVESTIGATED FOR CONTEMPT

Parliament in Swaziland is trying to sanction the editor of the privately owned Sunday newspaper for expressing himself about the affairs of the House of Assembly in a recent commentary in his publication.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reports that Irate MPs refused to be educated or corrected on the right of freedom of expression and the press and went on to pass a resolution to probe the editor, Mbongeni Mbingo, for criticizing the Speaker and House of Assembly for blocking a recent motion by an MP seeking to question an alleged secret move by Cabinet and traditional authorities to amend certain clauses in the Constitution without the knowledge of the nation.

For full details follow this link. http://allafrica.com/stories/200707091658.html

Sunday, 8 July 2007

DRUM BEATING

There is manufactured outrage in the Swazi press about the way the activities of the kingdom’s autonomous King Mswati III are reported in the foreign press. This time the victim is the South African magazine Drum (3 May 2007), which reported on the king’s lavish birthday party under the headline “The Swazi king celebrates his birthday in style while his people suffer in poverty”.

There have been calls for the magazine, which is freely on sale in Swaziland, to be banned and legal action has been threatened against it. All because Drum misidentified a Swazi prince as the king in a photograph.

The article runs for about 1,100 words across two pages and describes the king’s birthday party in April 2007. There were two parties: one attended by 10,000 subjects in a stadium in eastern Swaziland and another exclusive garden party at the royal residence. The total bill for the day came to 15 million emalangeni (just over two million US dollars).

This extract gives a flavour of the article. “They [critics] might roll their eyes a little in exasperation sometimes – after all, this is a king with 13 wives, each of whom he has provided with a BMW X5 while he drives a 500,000 US dollars Daimler Chrysler Maybach 62, one of the most luxurious cars in the world. But as far as his people are concerned he’s their absolute ruler and it’s not their place to criticise him.”

The article then gives what it calls these “hard facts” about Swaziland: the kingdom is crippled by debt, 42 per cent of the population is HIV-positive and more than 46 per cent don’t have work, 70 per cent of the country’s 1.1 million population live on less than one US dollar a day.

The king is reported to have said the party was justified as it was good for morale and enabled the country to “come together as one”.

Swazis canvassed by Drum were nothing but supportive of the king. One is quoted saying, “He is entitled to such expenses. This is part of our culture and tradition and we are tired of the West trying to enforce their ideals on us. We are happy being ruled by the king – and he should live in a palace and drive a nice car. It’s his right.”

Reaction in the Swazi press was swift. The day after Drum appeared on the shelves in Swaziland the Swazi Observer chief editor Musa Ndlangamandla, in a full-page article in his own newspaper, called the journalists at Drum “fools” who “insult our king”. Significantly, he openly refused to tackle the accusations made in the article, preferring to hide behind rhetoric of “glaring untruths and misconceptions in the article.”

The misidentified picture became the story in the Swazi press. The Times Sunday reported that Prince Lonkhokhela (the man in the picture) was “humiliated” by the picture and was taking legal action against Drum.

In an editorial comment the Times Sunday called for the government to intervene in the row, believing the king had been ridiculed by the mistaken photograph.

The Weekend Observer reported prominent Swazi businessman Walter Bennett calling on the government to consider stopping the distribution of Drum in Swaziland unless it made an unreserved apology to the king and the nation.

Bennett echoed a sentiment that is often expressed in the Swazi media when he reportedly said it was high time the country reacted to negative reports written in the foreign media.

The most extreme outburst came more than six weeks after the Drum publication. Almon Mbingo, a columnist for the Weekend Observer wrote of the woman journalist who wrote the Drum article, “She deserves to be hanged from the nearest tree.” He went on to say, “She deserves to be declared a Prohibitive Immigrant who should never set foot in Swaziland again. What a pity we do not have the 60 days detention order anymore, otherwise, she would be His Majesty’s guest in the Correctional Services before she is deported.” This invective clearly contravenes the SNAJ code on hate speech.

This outrage in the Swazi press is part of its continuing campaign to protect the king’s reputation against what it sees as unfair reporting in non-Swazi media. However, the outrage about the photograph is entirely synthetic. An editorial error was made and the prince was misidentified as the king: it was as simple as that. The Drum magazine published a correction in a later edition.

The Times Sunday in its editorial comment attacked South African journalists for making such an “obvious mistake” in not being able to identify the king, but the reality is that King Mswati III is not an international figure. He rules over a small country, landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, that has no significance on the international stage. The country has neither geopolitical strategic significance nor economic significance, such as a wealth of raw materials, and therefore what goes on in the country is of little interest outside Swaziland.

A systematic analysis of international news coverage of Swaziland demonstrates that hardly anything about the country appears in the foreign press. The King’s birthday went largely unreported outside Swaziland, although the South Africa Press Association agency did distribute a report based on comments from the Swaziland Solidarity Network that the cost of the celebration was extravagant. The South Africa Sunday Times ran a short piece based on the agency report, but I have been unable to find any other newspaper that felt the report interesting enough to publish.

The Swazi press is making its protests purely for internal consumption. The monarch in Swaziland holds all the power and no criticism of the king is tolerated. The manufactured outrage over the Drum article follows closely a report in Times Sunday in March 2007 from the Afrol news agency that suggested that economic and social problems facing Swaziland stemmed from the private spending of the king. This type of criticism was considered entirely out of order and after pressure both the Times Sunday and its stablemate Times of Swaziland issued apologies stating that the article was “disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny”.

This was a very clear warning to the Swazi media. There have also been threats from the government to make further controls on a media that is already subject by more than 30 restrictive laws. The manufactured outrage over the Drum article gives the Swazi press an opportunity to once again demonstrate its loyalty to the king.

The miscaptioned photograph is a distraction. What remains unchallenged by the Swazi press are the central accusations of the Drum report that the king lives a lavish lifestyle while most of his subjects are in abject poverty.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

SNAJ CODE OF CONDUCT

This Blog will comment on the Swaziland News Media with a particular emphasis on the ethical standards of the kingdom’s journalism. The best way to do this is to use the standards journalists in Swaziland set for themselves and to study how well they adhere to these.

The majority of Swazi journalists and other media practitioners are organised in professionals associations such as The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), which has a membership of 150 out of the estimated 200 journalists who are working in the country.

SNAJ itself has published a code of conduct and this provides a framework of reference to all practicing journalists in Swaziland, both full-time and freelance. The code is meant to ensure that members adhere to the highest ethical standards, professional competence and good behaviour in carrying out their duties. Its overriding concern is that members of the media should conduct themselves with a high sense of responsibility without infringing the rights of individuals and society in general.

The Code is divided into 19 Articles, an edited version of which follows:

Art 1: Peoples right to information (The duty of every journalist is to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend, the truth. A journalist should make adequate inquiries, do cross-checking of facts in order to provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information. The public must have unfettered access to all media).

Art 2: Social responsibility (Including a journalist may advise a survivor of a sexual offence to go for counselling).

Art 3: Professional integrity and conflict of interest (Journalists should not accept bribes and there should be no conflict of interest in the carrying out of the journalists’ duties.

Art 4: Plagiarism is unethical and illegal.

Art 5: Respect for privacy and human dignity (Journalists should respect the right of the individual, privacy and human dignity. Enquiries and intrusions into a person’s private life can only be justified when done in the public interest. A journalist should guard against defamation, libel, slander and obscenity. A journalist shall seek consent of the survivor before taking pictures or conducting interviews with survivors of sexual offences. In cases of minors, the consent of their guardians shall be sufficient. Evidence of the consent may be recorded electronically or documentary.)

Art 6: Respect for national and ethnic values (A journalist shall not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation. Journalists should respect ethnic values of Swazi society unless they compromise good moral values or violate human rights.).

Art 7: Confidential sources (Journalists are bound to protect confidential sources of information).

Art 8: Suppression of news (Under no circumstances should news or a publication be suppressed unless it borders on issues of national security).

Art 9: Corrections (Whenever there is an inaccurate or misleading report it should be corrected promptly and given due prominence. An apology should be published whenever appropriate).

Art 10: Rejoinders (A fair opportunity to respond to issues should be given to individuals and organizations).

Art11: Information and pictures (A journalist shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by ethical means provided the use of other means can be justified).

Art 12: Separating comment from facts (While free to take positions on any issue, journalists shall draw a clear line between comment, conjecture and fact).

Art 13: Hate speech. (Journalists shall avoid by all means the publication of speech that might promote hatred, spite and conflict amongst the Swazi or any other nation.)

Art 14: Respect embargoes when they exist on stories.

Art 15: Survivors of sexual assault (Journalists shall avoid identifying survivors of sexual assault or any information that may lead to the identification of the survivor.

Art 16: Dealing with minors (Journalists shall protect the rights of minors and in criminal and other cases secure the consent of parents or guardians before interviewing or photographing them).

Art 17: Personal grief and distress (Journalists should exercise tact and sensitivity in seeking information and publication).

Art 18: News headlines and sensationalism (Newspaper headlines shall be fully warranted by contents of the articles they announce. Photographs shall give an accurate picture of an event not highlight an incident out of context. Journalists shall endeavour to avoid reporting on information that will result in secondary trauma.)

Art 19: HIV AIDS. There are ten sub sections to this article covering areas including the right to confidentiality and privacy; informed consent and the rights of children infected with HIV.