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Friday, 30 November 2007

LONG HISTORY OF SWAZI CENSORSHIP

Censorship in Swaziland has a long and rich history. Yesterday, I wrote about how two independent voices were silenced after they upset the ruling elite.

Today, here’s a reminder that even the king’s own newspaper is not immune from victimisation. The Swazi Observer was closed in 2000 after it published a series of stories critical of the then Prime Minister and the Police Commissioner.

Mandla Magagula, writing in the Nation magazine in April 2000 said, ‘The events which led to the sudden closure of the Swazi Observer tell a tale of high drama which could easily have come from a movie script. As the newspaper tried to live up to the principles of good journalism, political figures came down on the editorial team like the wrath of God and when they reached a deadlock closed it down.’

According to Magagula, the main characters in the drama were the then Swaziland Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini; the Commissioner of Police, Edgar Hillary; the managing director of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane (the company effectively owned by the Swazi King, which publishes the Observer), A. T. Dlamini; and the Attorney General, Phesheya Dlamini.

(Observant readers will note there are a lot of Dlaminis in that cast of characters. In Swaziland, the Dlamini dynasty is the ruing elite. It is impossible to become Prime Minister in Swaziland if you are not a Dlamini. A. T. Dlamini, in 2000 the managing director of Tibiyo, is the present Prime Minister.)

But I digress. The problem for the Observer started when the newspaper’s managing editor and his reporters refused to divulge the sources for stories the Observer had published.

The first was when the newspaper carried a story about the bombings of the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and the Mahlanya Inkhundla, saying that police were poised for a breakthrough arrest. When the story appeared the police commissioner claimed the Observer had interfered with a police investigation.

The second was a report based on a letter written by Edgar Hillary who was seeking the assistance of the South African Special Police Squad in the investigation of a millionaire from Manzini, who was on the run in South Africa.

The International Press Institute (IPI) at the time reported, ‘On the day the article appeared, [the managing editor] was summoned to Hillary’s offices where the journalist was once again reprimanded for the article and asked again to reveal his source.

‘The following day, [the managing editor] was summoned yet again to Hillary’s office for a meeting with Hillary and two other policemen. Speaking to MISA-Swaziland, [the managing editor] said that the second meeting amounted to a mini court session. He was called names such as a “bullying” and “irresponsible” journalist and was warned not to write any “rubbish” that could be published at a later date. He was also asked for the letter and for him to reveal his source, which he declined to do. At the end of the meeting he was warned that he could face criminal charges or face a High Court order because of his actions and his refusal to disclose his source.

‘[The managing editor] along with his news editor were summoned to the offices of the Attorney General, where they were once again pressured to give in to the demands of the police commissioner. The two were again asked to hand over the letter in question.’

The third story was when the Observer called the Prime Minister ‘a liar’ after he said he had left the Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister out of a delegation to open the new embassy of the Republic of China because government had no money. The Observer discovered that China had funded the trip.

The fourth was a story about cow dung that involved the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

The fifth was a story that an influential millionaire had plotted to have the prime Minister sacked.

The Swazi High Court turned down an urgent appeal from the Attorney General to force the newspaper to divulge its sources. Magagula reported that the ‘Attorney General personally went to Observer House [the offices of the Observer] and delivered the documents relating to the application with the dire warning that the newspaper would either divulge its sources or [the managing editor] and his two reporters would be locked up.’

A source told Magagula, ‘The Attorney General was all pomp and majesty until [the managing editor] brought him back to earth with the warning that this brazen harassment could attract unpleasant international repercussions. The AG stormed out of the newspaper offices without another word.’

After the police commissioner, Edgar Hillary had failed to get the newspaper to disclose his sources, A. T. Dlamini, the managing director of Tibiyo intervened on behalf of Hillary.

According to Magagula, the role of A. T. Dlamini ‘is particularly reprehensible because he showed himself to be a double-talker’. He had previously encouraged staff at the Observer to report ‘without fear or favour because he believed in editorial independence. But here he was harassing his top editorial executive.’

When the journalists refused to divulge their sources, King Mswati III was consulted and, according to Magagula, he was ‘seemingly persuaded that the only way out of the quagmire was to close the newspaper’.

The IPI reported at the time, ‘The board of directors of the entire Swazi Observer group of papers announced on 17 February that the paper was being shut down. Chairman of the Board Timothy Nhleko called in the entire staff and in a one-minute address announced that the paper was being closed immediately and that everyone should vacate the premises.

‘In a written statement, the management said the closure was due to restructuring and financial reorganisation. However, MISA sources said that at a strategic planning meeting sponsored by the board and shareholders in the previous week, a five-year plan had been drawn up for the paper. According to the source, there was no indication of financial difficulties at the paper. Reliable sources in Swaziland claim that the order to close the newspaper came verbally from the King.’


See also

SWAZILAND POLICE RAID MAGAZINE
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES

Thursday, 29 November 2007

SWAZILAND POLICE RAID MAGAZINE

When I reported last week that the Times of Swaziland had been threatened with closure earlier this year unless it retracted a story it had published about King Mswati III, it reminded us all that free speech is not allowed in Swaziland (no matter what the Constitution says).

Newspapers and magazines have been attacked by the ruling powers in Swaziland before and the police forces (acting on their behalf) take no notice if the courts rule against them.

Here’s a little history lesson, courtesy of Afrol news agency – the same agency that supplied the report about King Mswati III that sparked the problem at the Times this year.

In May 2001, Afrol reported how Swaziland police raided the kingdom’s only independent news magazine, the Nation, in defiance of the country's High Court. The Nation, which had been banned by the government earlier that month, had received the court's approval to return to publishing.

Afrol reported, ‘The uniformed policemen insisted that the outspoken magazine was still technically banned and said they had instructions to confiscate all copies of its June edition. Policemen also reportedly confiscated over 5,000 copies of the publication from street vendors in the capital Mbabane and other major centres such as Manzini and Piggs Peak.’

Afrol added, ‘The Nation is one of two independent publications banned by Swaziland Public Service and Information Minister Mtonzima Dlamini on World Press Freedom Day on May 3 in an apparent clampdown on journalists critical of the kingdom’s monarchist system of government.

‘Dlamini banned the Nation and weekly newspaper Swazi Guardian in an extraordinary gazette, citing Section 3 of the Proscribed Publications Act of 1968, which gives his office unlimited powers to ban or suspend publications that do not conform with “Swazi morality and ideals”.’

Afrol reported, ‘Both the Guardian and the Nation are known to support the multi-party democracy movement and have both been critical of King Mswati III’s decision to govern by decree. All political parties have been banned in Swaziland since the suspension of the kingdom's constitution in 1973.

‘Mswati’s handpicked Parliament has also recently demanded that a proposed Media Council Bill be tabled for adoption. The Media Bill was deferred five years ago following international condemnation for allegedly seeking to gag and control journalists by requiring them to register with a government controlled media council.’

In a later report Afrol gave more details of the manner in which the banning was implemented.

‘The initial banning, published in Extraordinary Government Gazette 63, sparked police blockades and raids against retail outlets selling the publications,’ Afrol reported.

Nation editor Bheki Makhubu confirmed that uniformed policemen raided his offices on Tuesday evening and attempted to confiscate all copies of the magazine’s June edition. Police also reportedly harassed magazine vendors and retailers in Mbabane and the commercial city of Manzini, before confiscating early copies of the magazine.’

The banning saw police impound the Guardian as its delivery trucks crossed into Swaziland from its printers in South Africa.

Afrol continued, ‘The Guardian has meanwhile ceased publication of its weekly newspaper, but is updating its daily Internet with details of its struggle for media freedom. Both the Guardian and the Nation are known to support Swaziland's banned multi-party democracy movement and have both been critical of King Mswati III's decision to govern by royal decree.’

In an earlier report Afrol told how police had arrested the Guardian’s editor, Thulani Mthethwa, and drove him to police headquarters in Mbabane where he was interrogated at length over stories in his newspaper about activities in King Mswati III's palace. He was released after several hours.

The Guardian had reported on King Mswati III's health, as well as on rumours that he was poisoned by his first wife. The Guardian had earlier published a photograph of the queen crying at the Mbabane airport as she prepared to board a plane for London, allegedly because King Mswati III had expelled her from the royal palace.

The claims were that Queen Mngomezulu was ‘driven to the Lozitha Palace and questioned about her role in the suspected food poisoning’ of King Mswati III. Palace insiders had said ‘that Mswati complained of stomach cramps immediately after eating a special breakfast prepared by Mngomezulu’.

Afrol went on to report that senior journalists at both publications had previously been detained and questioned by police, who demanded that they reveal their sources on reports critical of the kingdom's ban on free political activity.


See also
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

TWO WEEKS TO SAVE SWAZI TV

Swazi TV news is so bad that the Minister of Public Service and Information has been given two weeks to make it better.

The move makes a timely reminder that media in Swaziland is not free.

Swazi TV is the government controlled television channel in Swaziland. There are only two TV stations in the kingdom, the other Channel Swazi (Channel S) is ‘independent’ of government control but was set up with the stated aim of broadcasting positive material about Swaziland’s autonomous monarch, King Mswati III.

The news of Swazi TV’s lack of expertise was published yesterday (27 November 2007) in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper owned by a company that is effectively owned by the king.

The Observer reported that the Ministry of Public Service and Information portfolio committee (a committee that oversees the workings of the ministry) gave the minister S’gayoyo Magongo two weeks to put matters right.

It is true that Swazi TV is in a mess. A few days ago it was revealed that Vukani Maziya, the chief executive of Swazi TV, had to wait about four months for his contract to be renewed. It was said that this was due to an administrative problem, rather than concerns about his ability in the job.

Swazi TV has been complaining for many years that it does not have enough money to properly run a television station. It relies heavily on cheap programming from overseas, especially the United States.

I have myself written about the poor quality of Swazi TV news. If you watch the news bulletins you see that the news is dominated by ‘official’ voices. These are representatives of the monarchy, of government or of non-government organizations.

Swazi television news excludes the vast majority of people in the country from its news bulletins and it rarely includes stories about ordinary people. Generally, ordinary people are not featured unless they have been victims of misfortune.

The majority of the reports that are broadcast centre on the main business town of Manzini and the kingdom’s capital city Mbabane and the 40-km ‘corridor’ that connects these two.

Swazi journalists do not perform their vital democratic role, which is to examine what government is and is not doing and to provide the public with information, comment, analysis, criticism and alternative views. Instead, news reports are presented at face value and reporters are not allowed to ask questions that require people in positions of power to justify their statements or actions.

If the Minister really wants to improve the quality of Swazi TV news, he and his government should set it free. It will never get better while it is forced to report only what the government allows it to. Instead, let professional journalists, people with real expertise and qualifications, run the station.



See also

TV NEWS IGNORES THE PEOPLE
BROADCASTING FOR THE PUBLIC

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

POVERTY OF SWAZI JOURNALISM 2

The reporting last week by the Swazi Observer of two destitute seven-year-old boys has awoken concerns about how the media in Swaziland report on poverty.

I wrote yesterday that the media tend to cover ‘poverty’ as if it were an event, when, in fact, it is a process.

The reports about the two boys showed that they were without parents, often went days without meals, had to walk 10 kilometres a day to school and only had rags to wear.

The coverage sparked concern among readers of the newspaper and donations of food, clothes and cash flooded in. I was critical of the Observer because 70 per cent of the population of Swaziland or about 700,000 people live on less than one US dollar a day. That pittance of an income means most people in Swaziland go hungry most of the time. About 66 per cent of the population is unable to meet basic food needs, while 43 per cent live in chronic poverty. Or put another way, the two boys featured in the Observer last week are not really much different from anyone else.

I do not intend to single out the Observer for particular criticism. Research by Sibusiso Ngubane into how the Times of Swaziland covers poverty shows that the Observer is far from being alone.

In his research Ngubane wanted to know whether the Times played an important role in fighting poverty in Swaziland.

He defined poverty as ‘a state of being deprived of the essentials of well-being such as adequate housing, food, sufficient income, employment, access to required social services and social status.’

He looked at 20 copies of the Times spread over the entire year, 2006, and found that only 24 stories about poverty were published in his sample. This led him to conclude that the Times ‘hardly reports about poverty in the country.’ He said the Times only reported about poverty as an event.

He said, ‘… the Times mostly reports about poverty when a Member of Parliament or International Donor donates food and clothes to the poor as compared to reporting about the state of poverty in rural areas of Swaziland.’

He added that the Times hardly wrote about the background of the poor while reporting about them. ‘The voice of the poor is not included when reporting about poverty’ he said. ‘The Times does not dig deep in the stories of poverty, they only report what they are told, not what they know.’

‘They also don’t go to the communities to get the stories first hand and interview the poor.’

Ngubane, a Journalism and Mass Communication student at the University of Swaziland, found that the Times did not focus on individuals but instead focused on communities in the rural areas that live in severe poverty. However, there were occasions when the Times gave some background to the causes of poverty (for example, orphans created by the HIV AIDS pandemic).

Ngubane concluded that the Times did not ‘attach any importance to the issue of poverty in the country.’ One piece of evidence for this was the fact that the newspaper did not give prominence to poverty stories. ‘.. there was not even a single story on poverty in the first five pages, including the front page.’ Most of the stories appeared on the ‘community news’ page.

None of the stories that the Times did publish on poverty were followed up at a later date, leading Ngubane to conclude that the Times did not dig deeply into poverty to find out ‘what led the poor to find themselves in such an unfortunate situation.’

There is some hope in the reporting of poverty, however. Comparing the Times to the electronic media in Swaziland, Ngubane suggests that television and radio do a better job when covering poverty. He writes that from his own observation a television or radio bulletin ‘always has one or more stories about poverty every day’.



See also

POVERTY OF SWAZI JOURNALISM 1

Monday, 26 November 2007

POVERTY OF SWAZI JOURNALISM 1

GuyThe plight of two impoverished children in Swaziland has highlighted big failings in the Swazi press.

The two boys, aged about seven years (nobody seems sure of their exact ages), were first featured in the Swazi Observer last Tuesday (20 November 2007) when the newspaper reported the children ‘try to survive under horrendous conditions’ with no family to support them.

Each morning in their ragged school uniforms they walk the 10 kilometres from their home to school where ‘they cut a strange picture among the sea of pupils at the school’.

The boys were reported to often go without meals for days.

The Observer went into overdrive with the story following it up several times over the next few days. By Saturday (24 November 2007) individual people and companies had made donations of food, clothing, bicycles and cash. The head of a security company had decided to adopt the boys (although what rights the boys had in this matter is not stated).

By Saturday each boy had a bank account with E3,000 in it. To put this into some context, 70 per cent of the population of Swaziland live on less than E7 (one US dollar) a day.

On the face of it this is a heart-warming story of kind people helping out some children who are in desperate circumstances. I don’t want to criticise people for being generous to the children but I do think the Observer has rather missed the point with the story.

As I said earlier, 70 per cent of the population of Swaziland or about 700,000 people live on less than one US dollar a day. That pittance of an income means most people in Swaziland go hungry most of the time. About 66 per cent of the population is unable to meet basic food needs, while 43 per cent live in chronic poverty. Or put another way, the two boys featured in the Observer this week are not really much different from anyone else.

Not for the first time the Swazi media have failed to put a news story in context. The Observer makes these two boys out to be an exception to the general lifestyles in Swaziland, when in fact they are the rule.

The Observer editor should have been able to make this connection himself if only he read his own newspaper. The two boys were not the only stories of poverty in the newspaper this week.

On Monday (19 November 2007) the day before the story about the two boys broke the Observer carried an article by Pastor Ken Jefferson where he tells the story of a gogo (grandmother) in a remote rural community who was looking after many orphan children in the community. When Pastor Jefferson visited the community the gogo pleaded for food for the children. ‘The look of relief as she was handed some milk, some mealie-meal and some oil was only too evident, and she seemed possessed of new strength,’ he wrote.

The Weekend Observer (24 November 2007) also carried a report from a different rural community where ‘starvation attacks many families’. The Weekend Observer reported, ‘So serious is the situation that poverty has affected all and sundry at Nginamadolo. Even the chief’s inner council survive from hand to mouth. There is no food on the table.’

Poverty is endemic in Swaziland, but to read the newspapers you would think it was an isolated incident. The Weekend Observer in an editorial comment about the two boys reminded its readers that 70 per cent of the population lived on less than a dollar a day, but it made no connection between this statistic and the boys’ plight. Instead, the newspaper believed the issue was about the lack of government grants for school uniforms that would have benefited the boys.

The media academic Prof Guy Berger of Rhodes University in research on newspaper reporting of poverty reminds us that poverty is not an event but a process. By that he means that newspapers cover poverty as if it was an event – something that just happens – rather than a process – something that is achieved over a period of time. The Observer reports the two boys as an event, when in fact they are victims of a process over which they have no control.

Poverty in Swaziland is not natural. Despite what the Swaziland Prime Minister A T Dlamini likes to tell us, poverty is not an act of God and prayer is no solution.

The website, Rural Poverty in Swaziland, has this to say about why people in Swaziland are poor.


‘Poor economic growth, a rapidly expanding population and an increasingly uneven distribution of factors are factors that contribute to the growing number of Swaziland’s rural poor people. Other factors aggravating poverty are the rise in unemployment, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the fact that large parts of the country
are vulnerable to drought and climate change. Environmental fragility is beginning to affect food security. Over grazing has caused soil depletion, while drought and periodic floods have become persistent problems.

Smallholder farmers living on Swazi Nation Land face a number of obstacles that prevent them from breaking out of poverty. The low agricultural productivity of the land can be attributed to a number of factors including difficult road access, poor linkages to markets, limited availability of irrigation water and vulnerability to climate change.'


Swazi journalist would do well to think about this when next they ‘report’ on poverty.


See also
POVERTY OF SWAZI JOURNALISM 2

Friday, 23 November 2007

SWAZILAND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

There was a lovely picture of the Swaziland Prime Minister A T Dlamini getting on to a plane on the front page of the Times of Swaziland yesterday (22 November 2007).

He’s off to represent King Mwsati III at the Commonwealth Summit in Kampala, Uganda.

The king can’t make it because he is in ‘seclusion’. Each year at about this time King Mswati III goes out of the public eye. No one is quite sure what he gets up to in seclusion because it’s a ‘traditional’ matter and to ask questions about it is considered to be ‘unSwazi’.

It’s a pity he won’t be at the Commonwealth Summit because he’ll miss the latest condemnation of human rights abuses in Swaziland.

And I suspect the rest of us in Swaziland will miss it too, because this isn’t the sort of report that the Swazi media like to make available to the king’s subjects in Swaziland

Even before the summit has properly started Swaziland has been criticised for the way the government controlled by King Mswati III permits the police to commit acts of brutality.

Human Rights Watch, in a media statement said, ‘the government of King Mswati III of Swaziland continued to permit the national police force to commit brutal acts with impunity, including detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of anti-monarchists and opposition members.’

Human Rights watch said that the human rights records of Commonwealth countries such as Swaziland were also at odds with the summit's theme of ‘political, economic and human development.’

Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, said, ‘Any serious discussion at the Commonwealth summit should recognize that human rights violations are inimical to sustainable development.

Brody added, ‘Commonwealth members need to hold leaders accountable if their abusive human rights policies thwart the development of their own countries.’

Human Rights Watch is a United States-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

It produces research reports on violations of international human rights norms as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally-accepted human rights norms.

See also
POLICE ‘MURDER’ – NEW EVIDENCE

SWAZI GOVERNMENT HITS ITS CRITICS

Government departments are punishing Swazi newspapers that write critical articles about them by withholding advertisements.

‘The government is the biggest single advertiser and wields enormous power in the small advertising market. Government regularly uses this power to control media content,’ it was revealed at a workshop held in Swaziland.

A panel of experts in the African Media Barometer workshop heard that censoring the news to protect advertisers has become increasingly common in Swaziland.

A report on the workshop reveals, ‘Recently the Ministry of Health ran a series of announcements in the Observer, but refused to run them in the Times. When the newspaper confronted the Ministry they said they withheld the advertisements because they were unhappy with the Times’ criticism of the Ministry over the public health crisis. The Observer has had similar experiences of government withholding advertisements on particular issues. This is not the result of top-level policy, but rather “just depends on which government department it is”’

Government departments can get away with this because the newspapers rely on advertising and a large proportion of that advertising income comes from the government. The advertising market in Swaziland is too small to sustain many media outlets. Government and parastatals are the big advertisers and if the were removed from the market, the media would barely survive. Advertising from private businesses is rare and ad hoc.

The report adds, ‘And since the government and parastatals are the biggest advertisers, this means information critical of government and public bodies can be withheld from the public.’

The workshop, which was held in July 2007, also heard that other advertisers are also protected by newspaper owners. The report states, ‘Recently the Times rejected an investigative piece that dug up dirt about a major advertiser.’ The owner of the Times made the editor shelve the article.

This kind of behaviour led the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Swaziland Chapter (MISA) to conclude that ‘media owners are more concerned about protecting their business than fighting for media freedom.’


See also

ADVERTISERS ‘CONTROL THE MEDIA’

Thursday, 22 November 2007

TELEVISION MISUSES CHILDREN

I wrote on Monday about how newspapers regularly misuse children in their reports and how reporters deny children their rights.

Newspapers are not the only culprits as this news report from Channel S (Channel Swazi) news shows.

I have some problems telling you about the story (which denied a child victim of rape her human rights) without committing the same gross errors as Channel S, but the basic details are these.

The main item on the news last Wednesday night (14 November 2007) was about some children who had been raped at a school. During the bulletin the reporter identified who the rapist was and interviewed one of the child victims. To protect her identity, the child had her face obscured by a black strip for most of the interview but she would have been clearly identifiable to anyone in her community (which was named) by her voice and the clothes she wore. But worse than this, because of a technical mistake the black strip on her face was removed before the end of the interview and her face was clearly visible on screen for several seconds.

Then it became clear that the police had not arrested or charged the man the news report had said was the rapist and it seemed had no intention of doing so.

To recap: Channel S falsely named a man as a rapist when he had not been convicted of the crime and identified and interviewed a child victim of rape.

The report violated the Swazi National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct. By accusing the man of being a rapist Channel S broke Article 5 of the code, which states, ‘A journalist should guard against defamation, libel, slander and obscenity.’

Channel S may also have broken the same article which goes on the state, ‘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.’ We can’t be sure that the parents or guardian of the child who was interviewed gave consent. Certainly, no adult related to the child was featured in the news item.

Channel S broke Article 15 of the code which states, ‘Journalists shall avoid identifying survivors of sexual assault or give any information that may lead to the identification of the survivor.’ Channel S is guilty by interviewing the child on camera and showing her full face at the end of the interview. Even if the dreadful mistake of showing her face had not happened, the girl would still have been identifiable by her voice and clothing. Also, the item was recorded (not broadcast live) so there was an opportunity to correct the mistake before the news bulletin was aired.

So how should Channel S have reported the story? The station was perfectly within its rights to bring such an important crime as rape to the public’s attention, but it needed to do so without violating the rights of the child involved.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has developed guidelines to support media workers who have to deal with children and young people. The IFJ advocates media training to recognise that children’s rights are important and to reflect upon the social responsibilities they carry when they research, write and produce children’s stories. Media houses need to develop practical strategies for dealing with complex issues and keeping an appropriate balance between the protection of children’s rights and journalistic independence and freedom of expression.

The IFJ advocates media training, but the evidence so far in Swaziland suggests such an approach will have a limited impact. For example, a three-day workshop on responsible reporting of children was held in Swaziland for media practitioners and others. It received extensive coverage in the Swazi media and codes of practice were published, but the message has not travelled from the classroom to the newsroom.

See also
POOR PICTURE OF CHILDREN

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

AIDS PUTS SWAZILAND ON THE BRINK

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – if you really want to know what’s going on in Swaziland, don’t bother with the Swazi media. Look instead at what’s being reported aborad.

I was reminded of this yet again this week by an article in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper about the true picture of HIV / AIDS in Swaziland.

The article written by two academics, Professor Alan Whiteside and Scott Naysmith at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, details the devastating effect AIDS is having in Swaziland.

Here are some of the main points of the article.

- A survey undertaken in 2006, estimated that 220 000 people, 19% of the population, are infected with HIV. If this prevalence were applied to South Africa and the United States, then nine million South Africans and 56-million Americans would be infected.

- AIDS kills half of the children dying under the age of five. Swazi citizens born in 1993 could expect to live 60 years; today Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world at just 31.3 years.

- There are already 130 000 orphans and vulnerable children, a number projected to increase to 200 000 by 2010. As elderly care­givers die, the oldest children take over without a support network. Sadly, Swazis have come to see the circumstances afflicting a third of their nation’s children as ordinary and inevitable -- an 'abnormal normality' that reflects a society with few options.

- Many Swazi households are forced to cope with livelihood failure, caused by drought, falling agricultural production and a declining GDP. The number of Swazis 'skipping meals' has increased; poor nutrition hastens the onset of AIDS and puts individuals at greater risk of infection. In 2007 40% of all Swazis require food aid, yet the government recently decided to cultivate cassava crops for bio-fuel production.

- Swazi women and girls shoulder the burden of the disease and are the most vulnerable to infection. A shocking 49% of women aged between 25 and 29 are HIV-positive, reflecting the low status of women.



The research that the Mail and Guardian article is based on can be downloaded here

In Swaziland, meanwhile, the Prime Minister tells us that the way to overcome AIDS is to pray to God.

See also

SWAZILAND IS ON ITS KNEES

SWAZILAND ‘SHAMES AFRICA’

Swaziland shames the rest of Africa when it comes to violating the rights of journalists.

That was the first public declaration made by a new African journalist’ organisation formed this month (November 2007).

The Federation of African Journalists was launched at a congress in Abuja, Nigeria, on the theme of Building a Strong and United Voice for African Journalists. Participants from 20 countries in Africa attended the congress.

The Federation’s first public statement was to issue a strong protest over African governments that jail journalists and encourage a culture of impunity by failing to investigate violent attacks on media staff. 'These governments shame Africa and make a mockery of commitments to pluralism and democracy,’ said the Federation, in a media statement issued on 15 November 2007.

The Federation called on the African Union and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioners to investigate, expose, and take appropriate action against states violating the fundamental rights of the people of Africa.

In particular, the Federation called on the African Union to investigate the actions of Swaziland and other governments including Somalia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Niger, Gambia, Tunisia and Egypt where there have been credible reports of serious violations of journalists’ rights.

The Federation of African Journalists is part of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

Jim Boumelha, IFJ President, who was present at the conference hosted by the Nigeria National Union of Journalists, the continent’s largest journalists’ group, said, ‘Journalists are angry at the way governments and authorities abuse media. They are determined to fight for their rights and they want a single, unified Federation that will speak for all African journalists and that will ensure actions to support African journalism are led and driven by African journalists themselves.’

BIG BROTHER SHOW CONS AFRICANS

Big Brother Africa 2 (BBA2), the ‘reality’ television show that went on and on and on for three months is finally over.

The Swazi media, particularly the newspapers and mostly the Times of Swaziland, got carried away by the show in which 12 young men and women were put together in a house, made to undertake tasks, had cameras watching them 24 hours a day, and then had viewers decide which ones of them they wanted to evict from the house. This went on and on for 98 days until there was only one ‘housemate’ standing. The winner got to go away with 100,000 US dollars (about 700,000 Swazi emalengeni).

Swazi journalists such as Nathi Gule, who writes a television review in the Times every Friday, thought BBA2 was the best thing since television was invented.

Although the media in Swaziland fell for BBA2, journalists elsewhere in Africa were more aware of that BBA2 was a confidence trick on ordinary Africans.

Daniel Soetan, writing last Saturday (17 November 2007) in the Nigerian newspaper Leadership, compared BBA2 with a previous ‘reality’ TV show called Gulder Ultimate Search. Soetan writes.

‘[Gulder Ultimate Search] was a TV Reality Show that x-rayed the true day-to-day life of average African people.

‘Gulder Ultimate Search was devoid of luxury, flamboyancy etc. No rooms fully air-conditioned, no gas cookers, and other quirths that an average African cannot afford.

‘How will you get an air-conditioner when your ordinary ceiling, standing or even table fan, as the case may be, would require generator to roll the blades?

‘What gas cooker? Can an average Nigerian afford it? My neighbours, even with the kerosene cooking stoves, still have to use charcoal burner to cook oftentimes. The poor family can’t cope with the hike in the price of kerosene.

‘In an hotel one day, during the early days of the just concluded Big Brother Africa, I watched the housemates testing the beautiful new clothes that had just been delivered to them by the organisers. Ask the participants of the Gulder Ultimate Search.

‘The BBA reality show, to an extent, suppresses the truth about the real African. How can you lock up some youths and have them live in a fake world? They briefly enjoy luxury, comfort, a high life style and rich nutritious food that some of them do not enjoy in their real world, only to evict them back into their real world of poverty and hustling.

‘They'll come out more angry, frustrated and aggressive than they went in with so much impatience and greed because they simply desire that it continues to be like it was in the Big Brother House.’


I agree with most of what Daniel Soetan writes but I think he misses an important point. BBA2 wasn’t meant to be about ‘average’ Africans. BBA2 went out on the satellite channel DSTV, a channel that most Swazis don’t watch because they can’t afford to. In Swaziland about 70 per cent of the population exist on less than one US dollar a day.

BBA2 is targeted at a very particular audience of young people. To be attractive to sponsors and advertisers the audience need to be in well paying jobs and have money to spend on the goods and services advertisers want to sell.

Advertisers who use television have trouble reaching younger adults, so BBA2 was aimed specifically at these kinds of people. BBA2 wants the audience to relate to the participants so they chose men and women to take part who come from a very narrow social demographic.

The 12 housemates ranged in ages from 21 to 30-years old, but most of them were aged 23 to 28. They didn’t have run-of-the-mill jobs in the real world. Two described themselves as ‘authors’, one was a model and actress, another was a fashion designer and yet another was a ‘radio personality’. This range of occupations is hardly typical of the average African.

Only countries with people who have money to attract advertisers were allowed to take part. Swazis were not invited to audition for a place in the house because not enough people in the kingdom subscribe to DSTV. Swazis are just too poor.

I’ll leave the final word for today on BBA2 to Ambrose Nuwagira, writing in the New Vision newspaper, Uganda.

‘What has this show portrayed? That life is all about manipulation, hypocrisy, and exploitation, whereby the most clinical in these will always win. This is a blatant lie.

‘To the African child, the biggest question in the last 98 days has been what can an African do for $100,000? The answers were just manifesting on the TV screens; hatred, envy, greed and infidelity.

‘There is absolutely nothing African about big brother.

‘Big brother is a sign of moral degeneration, greed, and gluttony. Africans have a sense of decency, shame, honour, dignity and moral sensibility. These are two contrasting situations. Now that they have broken the codes of decency, have made adultery look attractive and, of recent, portrayed fidelity as insignificant, what will be the next item on stage in an era where HIV/AIDS rates are increasing and vices like homosexuality trying to hold ground? Big Brother Africa portrays high corporate social irresponsibility and has offered our society a disservice.’

See Also

WATCHING BIG BROTHER

READING BIG BROTHER

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

CLOSURE THREAT TO ‘TIMES’

The Times of Swaziland came close to being forced to close earlier this year after it published a report critical of King Mswati III.

This news has emerged from a recently published report looking at media freedom in Swaziland.

The Times was threatened with closure unless it published an apology after it reproduced a news report from an international news agency, Afrol.

The Afrol article (which can be read in full here) gave details of an International Monetary Fund report on Swaziland.

It said, ‘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 (22 March 2007) following publication an ‘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.’

Now, a report from African Media Barometer, which is based on a workshop conducted with media experts in Swaziland, states that the Times was threatened with closure over the publication of the report. Details are sketchy, but the background to the incident appears to be that the publisher of the Times was summoned by Royal authorities and ordered to make the apology. Fearful of a demand to close the newspaper, he did as he was told

See also

SWAZI MEDIA TOE THE LINE

Monday, 19 November 2007

POOR PICTURE OF CHILDREN

Swazi journalists and their employers need to reassess their commitment to the ethical reporting of children. There is a clear gap between the ethical aspirations of journalists in Swaziland and the actual work they do.

This is one of the main findings of research I did into the way Swaziland’s newspapers use photographs of children.

I surveyed all Swaziland’s daily and weekend newspapers for eight weeks October to December 2006. This was a total of 56 editions of the daily newspapers The Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer; the Saturday newspapers The Weekend Observer and the Swazi News; and the Times Sunday,

I used the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct as a guide to what should and should not be published.

The code is meant to ensure that journalists stick to the highest ethical standards, professional competence and good behaviour in carrying out their duties. Its main 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.

I was particularly interested in the way minors were depicted in photographs. Perhaps, the biggest area for concern with photography in all the newspapers in Swaziland is the depiction of minors, especially the issues of sexual activity and identification.

Among the examples I found was a news report that detailed a house fire in which a school pupil’s belongings were destroyed. In the course of the report a claim is made that the pupil was having an affair with one of her teachers (the pupil’s age is not given). The pupil is not named and her mother agrees to be interviewed by the paper so long as she is not identified. The report has a picture, clearly posed, of the mother with some of the remains of clothing that was burnt. Although the mother’s face has a black sticker across the eyes she is clearly identifiable by her clothes and her location. Anyone with knowledge of the location would be able to identify her and her daughter (Swazi Observer 22 November, 2006 p6).

A different newspaper states that a 14-year-old girl is selling herself for sex to get pocket money because her mother will not provide her with pants. She is not identified by name (her mother is described as a maid and the location in which she works is given). The girl is interviewed by the paper (it is not stated but it seems as if she was not interviewed with an adult present). The words used to describe the girl sexualise her. ‘Dressed in her black stockings complemented with an above the knee mini skirt, the girl stood out from the rest of her friends as someone who has been “enlightened” about life more than anything’ In the report, the girl describes how she had sex with a kombi driver and when her mother found out she severely beat her. The girl was also was also caned 15 times at her school. The report has a picture of the girl in her miniskirt talking with the newspaper’s reporter. The girl’s face is blacked out but he would be easily recognisable by anyone in her locality (Times Sunday 2 October, 2006 p5).

Another report is about a standard five primary school pupil (aged14) who is seven months pregnant but will still write her final year examinations. The girl’s mother is interviewed and gives an account of how the daughter got pregnant. The mother blames a local church, which encouraged children to attend services. It was after one of these services that she had sex with her boyfriend. The newspaper uses false names in the report to protect the family’s identity but a picture of the girl’s mother (with eyes blacked out) clearly identifies her by her clothes. There might also be a crucial mistake in the photograph’s caption, which appears to have included the mother’s real name (Times of Swaziland 24 November 2006 p5).

The photograph of two innocent children was included in a report about children aged between five years to fifteen working as prostitutes. The newspaper takes a file picture, which shows two brothers playing together. They have no connection with child prostitution and appear to have been used in the report simply because they are children. Mysteriously, the caption begins with the words ‘Naked truth’ (although both boys are fully clothed) and goes on to read ‘a boy captured carrying his younger brother while playing at Mpolonjeni area in the Lubombo region early in the year (Swazi News 4 November 2006 p12)

A total of 32 children were victims of robbery at the Christian rehabilitation centre. Two men assaulted and hacked some of the children. A newspaper report describes the children as ‘still traumatised as a result of the ordeal’. Two boys are quoted giving accounts of their experiences. Two pictures (head and shoulders) are used and both have eyes blacked out. Ages of the children are not given but an estimate would be about 12 years old (Times of Swaziland 22 November 2006 p2).

A picture of the injured back of a six-year-old boy is pictured to accompany a report that his step mother ‘brutally beat’ him. The mother is identified by name, location of residence and age but the report also states ‘The boy, whose identity shall be protected, attends a local school’. On p2 there is also a picture of the mother inside a police van seated with her daughter who has her faced blurred out. The mother is clearly identifiable and by extension so is her daughter. The reporter also attempted to interview the boy but reported ‘An attempt to speak to him proved futile as he appeared traumatised and seemed to fear his stepmother’. In contradiction of this, the reporter then quotes the boy at some length. There is reason to be sceptical about this quote since the boy uses sophisticated language that is unusual for six year olds. He is quoted as saying ‘I told her [his mother] that my friends would attest that I was in class the whole day’) (Times of Swaziland 18 October 2006 p1).

The picture of the six-year-old boy used to illustrate the report on 18 October 20067 is taken out of the file to illustrate a two-page spread on corporal punishment of children in Swaziland (Times of Swaziland 31 October 2006 p8)

All of these news items misuse children. They do not recognise that children have a special place in journalism codes of conduct because they have special needs and require special protections within society. Most adults are capable of deciding what involvement they want to have with the media and can make informed decisions as to the extent of their cooperation.

Children have neither the knowledge nor the experience to make such a decision. At the point at which journalists are gathering material for their news reports there is no equality between the journalists and the child and where there is a power imbalance there is potential for exploitation.

One possible major reason why there is a failure on the part of journalists to adhere to their own code of ethics is ideological. One cannot be surprised that journalists do not respect the rights of children when the state does not respect them either.

Friday, 16 November 2007

ETHICAL JOURNALISM IS VITAL

This blog is mostly about the ethical standards of journalism in Swaziland.

It is necessary to have a blog like this because media academics and commentators both in Swaziland and in Africa generally have identified many shortcomings in journalism. In Swaziland senior media practitioners identify the kingdom’s media as partisan, inaccurate and generally unprofessional.

A workshop of civic society stakeholders held in September 2005, which attempted to measure the performance of the media in Swaziland reported that news media lacked credibility and many people saw journalists as lacking in education and experience.

In Africa more generally newspapers have been described as very unprofessional, highly biased, and sensational with exaggerated reports published out of context. This situation has driven one senior media academic to conclude that the independent press in Africa has apparently thrown all ethical norms overboard. Therefore, codes of ethics are necessary so that journalists can stay on the right track.

Swaziland is not unique in Africa in having a code of ethics, nor do the clauses that make up the code differ much from those in existence elsewhere in Africa. Most codes cover truthfulness, fairness, impartiality, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, invasion of privacy, trauma, stereotyping and social responsibility.

Leading the campaign to improve ethical standards of journalism is the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), which has a membership of 150 of the estimated 200 journalists working in the kingdom.

In 2002, SNAJ developed and approved a code of conduct to try to ensure professional standards were maintained by all journalists practicing in the country.

The code was updated in 2005 to include clauses on the coverage of HIV/AIDS and gender issues. However, no organisation has been created to ensure the code of ethics is adhered to, so SNAJ currently relies on willing editors in newsrooms to sensitise journalists about the code. SNAJ has also embarked on an awareness campaign to educate its members about the code.

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.

There are eight articles of the code which concern themselves with the personal responsibility of the journalist and these cover such matters as conflict of interest (do not accept bribes), plagiarism; protecting confidential sources; under no circumstances suppressing news (unless it borders on issues of national security); allowing a fair opportunity for organizations or individuals to respond to issues raised in publications; using ethical means to secure information and photographs; respecting embargoes and encouraging journalists to advise a survivor of a sexual offence to go for counselling.

The remaining nine articles cover areas including the public’s right to information (which is unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive); respect for privacy; respect for national and ethnic values (not originating material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation); publishing corrections to inaccurate or misleading reports; separating comment from fact; avoiding the publication of speech that might promote hatred; avoiding the identification of survivors of sexual assault; protecting the rights of minors; exercising tact and sensitivity when dealing with people in grief.; avoiding misleading and sensational headlines and the reporting of people with HIV and AIDS.

In Swaziland there is not yet one single body that exists to enforce the code and each media house has developed its own professional standards. For instance, the Times of Swaziland has created an internal ombudsman to address concerns of readers and sanction offending journalists. The Swazi Observer has its own internal structures to address concerns raised by readers.

But the experiences of working with the code of conduct are not good. In a survey I did of the Swazi press in 2006 I discovered constant breaches of the SNAJ code of conduct. These breaches were in every one of SNAJ’s 19 clauses. They ranged in intensity from relatively minor infringements of fairness (apportioning blame in reports of traffic accidents), and clear bias in reporting on activities of MPs, to very severe examples of hate speech (homosexuals should be considered lower than animals).

The most striking aspect of the infringements was the almost casual disregard for the codes. For example, Article 5, which deals with privacy, states clearly that ‘intrusions into a person’s private life can only be justified when done in the public interest’. The ‘public interest defined as ‘all matters pertaining to and promoting public safety, security, health and general well being of society’ (SNAJ Code Definitions). This article of the code was casually disregarded all the time.

For example there was a report of a school student who was forced to drop out of school; another report that was conjecture on why a man committed suicide, speculation over the reasons for a possible suicide (with a photograph of a woman sobbing as she narrates her ordeal); a woman who spoke to reporter on condition of anonymity has her photograph published (she has her eyes backed out but she is clearly identifiable by her clothes and her location. It is impossible to justify any of these reports on the grounds of public interest as defined above.

My survey is not the only evidence that ethical journalism in Swaziland is poor.

A News Diet Study of the Swazi newspapers conducted by the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Swaziland Chapter (MISA) in 2006 discovered ‘serious ethical violations’ taking place in newspapers.

It found almost half the violations occurred in stories about child abuse or gender-based violence where the report failed to protect the victim and / or trivialised the event. MISA concludes, ‘This raises questions about the level of awareness among journalists of the need to report these issues responsibly and sensitively and, in particular, the standard of editing in the newspapers.’

How do we improve the ethical standards of journalism in Swaziland? The answer is very difficult and cannot be answered in a single essay. – that will take an entire blog.

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

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

POLICE ‘MURDER’ – NEW EVIDENCE

The campaign by the Times Sunday to prove that police killed an unarmed suspect in cold blood is gaining ground.

The newspaper reported this week (11 November 22007) that a post-mortem examination on Ntokozo Ngozo revealed that the police had lied in their account of the shooting when they said Ngozo was armed and trying to escape from them.

The Times Sunday says, ‘The post-mortem report reveals that police shot the suspect within a range of 35cm twice using a low velocity firearm like a 9mm Parabellum.’

One bullet had been shot into his the left thigh and two others into his body. One went into his chest piercing his left lung heart and killing him. Another shot went through the abdomen and hit his kidney.

An independent pathologist who was commissioned by the human rights group Amnesty International conducted the post-mortem.

The post-mortem report also stated that Ngozo was not wearing a shirt at the time of the death. The Times Sunday reports that Ngozo was wearing a shirt when he was found dead ‘suggesting that it was put on after he was shot.’

The significance of the post-mortem findings is that they contradict the report of the police after the shooting had taken place on 11 August 2007.

According to the Times Sunday, the police first alleged that Ngozo had tried to shoot at them; then the police said he was shot trying to escape from them; and then they said they had to shoot Ngozo because they could not be sure if he was armed and would attack them.

The post-mortem report identifies that the police were at close range (35cm) when they shot him and that two shots were fired at close range after Ngozo had already been hit in the thigh. This evidence contradicts the police statements that Ngozo was trying to escape from them and that Ngozo may have been armed.

In a previous report the Times Sunday quoted witnesses saying that police had shot Ngozo in the thigh and police continued to shoot him while he was crying for help, begging them not to kill him.

Swazi police have declined to comment on the post-mortem report.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

WORLD’S MEDIA FAILS AFRICA

The media are failing to show the human side of Africa and instead opt to tell gloomy stories about the continent.

Comfort Mabuza, the director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Swaziland Chapter, called on journalists to be more positive in their reporting of Africa.

The Weekend Observer on Saturday (10 November 2007) reported Mabuza saying, ‘The Western media has painted a gloomy picture about the status of the African continent. The most highlighted issue is the plight of the poor, famine and disease.’

Mabuza, who was speaking at a workshop on journalism research organised by the international media organisation Panos, said that in the Western media, one is usually confronted with disturbing pictures of millions dying and skinny and frail bodies.

The Weekend Observer reported Mabuza saying, ‘These pictures are of our brothers and sisters showing them in such a state by the Western media, whilst we dismally fail to tell the stories as we live them.’

He said the Swazi media should take up such stories of severe poverty that has engulfed the country and ravaged more than half the population.

There is nothing particularly new in what Mabuza said, but that doesn’t make his point any less valid.

Media academics and media commentators have been studying the coverage of Africa for many years. In most cases they criticise the under reporting of Africa and the stereotyping of Africans. Africa is seen as a culturally, intellectually and politically inferior continent when compared to America and Europe.

A list of the typical images of Africa as portrayed by the American and European media would look something like this

- Beautiful scenery
- Amazing wildlife
- Africans acting as servants to Western tourists
- Friendly welcoming people (incidentally, a stereotype the Swazi media likes to perpetuate about its own kingdom)
- Political and social instability
- Disaster zones
- Hunger
- Disease
- Corruption
- Incompetent leadership

One reason for the poor quality of the coverage of Africa is that there are relatively few correspondents from the major Western news organisations living in Africa who understand the culture of the people. The correspondents that do exist tend to be based in major urban centres such as Nairobi, Cairo, Harare and Johannesburg, which means they don’t get much opportunity to get out into the rural areas of Africa where most Africans live. As a result they are unable to portray Africa on anything but a superficial level.


The media academic Tina van der Heyden believes there are more subversive reasons for the Western media’s negative portrayal of Africa. These are related to coverage of the West’s role in African news situations and also go a long way to explaining why reports on Africa are often made out of context, obscuring information by omission.


While it’s common to have reports criticising undemocratic African leaders, the Western ‘democratic' country supporting the dictator is seldom mentioned. In the reporting of conflict situations as well, the West’s role in supplying weapons is also not mentioned.
Van der Heyden says that the Western media’s selection of foreign news stories often attempts to disguise or simplify the role Western governments and businesses have played in the exploitation of African countries.


Van der Heyden says that the only time the West’s role in a crisis situation in Africa is emphasised, is when the West has the opportunity to emerge as a ‘Samaritan’ figure, helping the Africa which is unable to help itself. This is often an opportunity for Aid and relief organisations to get some advertising. So you would have a story about the aid worker who risked life and limb to help, but nothing about the local people who deal with the same situation everyday.


There are ways the media’s coverage of Africa may be improved. Van der Heyden reports on Ghana’s Minister of Communications ten-point agenda on how Africa can be given more balanced and accurate coverage.

1. African leaders, governments and citizens, must resolve to work harder to produce more positive news in Africa.

2. Africa must have a positive image of itself.

3. Africans must engage in ‘affirmative reporting’ for Africa.

4. African governments and the private sector must take decisive advantage of news and film exchange programmes.

5. African government must allocate more funds to the communications sector.

6. There should be communication components in funding for projects in sectors like agriculture, education, health etc.

7. More press attaches/cultural or information officers should be posted to diplomatic missions.

8. Professions in Africa allied to journalism, like public relations and advertising have the onerous role of presenting positive images about Africa.

9. African countries should undertake more international public relations campaigns.

10. African countries and their international friends should provide more education and training to journalists.

If you are interested in the topic of media coverage of Africa the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, USA, published a special issue of its quarterly journal Nieman Reports on ‘Africa: Stories to be Told’ in Fall 2004.

The journal includes articles from across the continent. You can get it on the Internet here

See also AFRICA’S NEWS BY AFRICANS

AFRICA’S NEWS BY AFRICANS

More realistic and relevant images of Africa may be seen on television screens across the world with the launch of new TV channels.

The changes come after established global television companies have been criticised for mostly broadcasting news and documentaries that stereotype Africa as a disaster-torn continent full of starving and needy people.

The website journalism.co.za reports that new satellite channels are planned to give an African perspective on African news

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) began test transmissions of SABC International in June 2007.

‘SABC News International will provide on-the-hour news bulletins and news updates,’ says Alwyn Kloppers, Manager of Resources at SABC News, who is also a member of the task team planning the service.Fashioned on similar lines as the big international services like CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, SABC News International will seek to compete commercially.

The channel will replace the existing SABC Africa service carried on DSTV, whose broadcasting contract expires in March 2008. The new channel will be available on Sentech’s relatively unknown VIVID satellite platform. It will be free to air, but users will need to buy a special decoder. It will cover Sub-Saharan Africa from Nigeria to South Africa.

Initially, broadcasting will be mainly in English, with French as the second main language. Other languages like Portuguese could be added in due course.

The SABC initiative comes amid several other continent-wide TV projects, many driven by a sense that Western networks consistently misrepresent Africa. An independent company, Africans Together Vision (ATV), led by Samir Amin, the son of the late Mohamed Amin, a Kenyan cameraman best known for his coverage of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, is planning a pan-African channel with the name A24 TV.

In 2006, ATV announced that it aims to give a voice to the continent and that it targets free-to-air television and radio stations complemented by mobile and internet services.

The Guardian newspaper, UK, reports that for years a news channel has been beyond the reach of any media organisation in Africa. Now, however, satellite and coverage costs, through new technology and the internet, make A24 possible.

The channel will offer breaking news, analysis and a platform for sharing ideas between Africans from across the continent and beyond. It will use a range of distribution methods including streaming on the internet and mobile phones. Africa is enjoying an explosion of mobile usage and the channel bosses plan to encourage its audience to send user-generated content to its Nairobi headquarters.

Eventually, A24 wants to run 46 news bureaux across the continent. A24 will cover both the uplifting as well as the depressing news from Africa.

The channel will be editorially independent and plans to train its own journalists through the A24 Foundation with the help of Norway's Gimlekollen School of Journalism. The foundation will coordinate this training in cooperation with universities and institutes in South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya as well as major TV news agencies.

A24 is in discussion with a wide range of international broadcasters and partners about content-sharing, distribution and support, and the channel’s two founders, Amin and managing director Daniel Rivkin, plan to roll the channel out both online and on television during next year.
‘24 will make a difference because it will create a new kind of voice,’ says Amin. ‘It will be truly African, beyond local politics and beyond prejudices.’

Meanwhile, CNBC Africa has recently begun broadcasting as sub-Saharan Africa's first 24/7 international business news channel. Recently, to give more coverage on Africa, Al Jazeera added another portfolio called Al Jazeera Africa to its Al-Jazeera International (AJI), the new 24-hour English-language news and current affairs channel and sister of Al-Jazeera Arabic News Channel.

Monday, 12 November 2007

SECRECY AND THE CONSTITUTION

Last week the High Court denied Swazi people the right to see records about how the Swaziland Constitution was drawn up

Put simply, the High Court said that nobody was allowed to see the records because the Constitutional Review Commission, which controlled the constitutional drafting, said they couldn’t.

There was extensive coverage of this decision in the media last Wednesday (7 November 2007) and the Weekend Observer on Saturday (10 November 2007) published the High Court decision in full.

Judging by the amount of space given to it, the Swazi media thought this was an important story, but not for the first time they missed the point entirely.

Ever since the Constitution was published and enacted in 2006, Royalty, politicians and the media have been telling us that we shouldn’t complain about its contents, because the Constitution represents the will of the people.

What the High Court case reminds us is that we don’t know what the will of the people was. This is because all the documents containing information on the way the constitution was drawn up, and what the people said during the period the constitution was drafted, have been kept secret.

But there was no secrecy about the secrecy. We have always known that the documents have not been available to the public. The High Court case merely confirms this.

I don’t know why the media have allowed the myth of consultation to grow in the public’s mind. Even the media was banned from reporting on discussions while they were taking place.

This shroud of secrecy was well known. In 2003 after the first draft of the constitution was published, King Mswati III expressly requested a group of international lawyers known as the International Bar Association (IBA) to study the draft and to give him comments.

The IBA report, 'Striving for Democratic Governance’, called the draft constitution ‘flawed’ and reported that one critic went so far as to call it ‘a fraud.’

It is worth looking at the IBA report in some detail because it clearly sets out what was going on during the drafting process, which was controlled by the CRC.

The CRC did not allow the judiciary or NGOs to contribute to the debate and ensured that individual Swazi people were interviewed in the presence of their chiefs. As a result the ‘overwhelming’ majority said they wanted the King to keep all his powers and wanted the position of traditional advisers to the King to be strengthened. They also wanted Swazi customs to have supremacy over any international rights obligations.

The IBA report states, ‘The terms of reference of the Commission did not allow expressly for group submissions, and as apparently they were not entertained, NGOs per se were effectively prevented from commenting. The IBA panel considers that, unfortunately, this in itself deprived the CRC of much valuable input.’

The IBA report goes on, ‘The CRC also faced a number of practical problems. There were disputes between local chiefs, collecting views during the rainy season in Swaziland was difficult, and several Commission members resigned.

‘The extent to which individual Swazis were consulted has also been questioned. The CRC did not keep records of the submissions it received and media coverage of submissions was apparently banned.

‘There is therefore no formal record of how Swazi citizens presented their views and of what in fact they said to the CRC.

‘Furthermore, information was elicited in a highly charged atmosphere. Individuals were reportedly asked, in the presence of chiefs, whether they wanted to retain the King and whether they preferred political parties.

‘The CRC report states that “there is a small minority which recommends that the powers of the monarchy must be limited” and continued that “an overwhelming majority of the nation recommends that political parties must be banned”.

‘The report concludes that “an overwhelming majority recommends that the system of Government based on the Tinkhundla must continue” and, as well as the ban on political parties being maintained, that the executive powers of the King should be maintained, the position of traditional advisers to the King strengthened, and Swazi customs have supremacy over any contrary international rights obligations.’

I am bound to say that given the way that the people were ‘consulted’ with chiefs present, and the powers that chiefs hold over their subjects, it is difficult to imagine the people coming to any other conclusion.

Friday, 9 November 2007

TOUGH FOR WOMEN JOURNALISTS

‘Women make lousy journalists because they are incompetent and easily intimidated.’

‘Women have a problem because their productivity and output is naturally low.’



These two comments come from male journalists in Swaziland. The second comment comes from a senior editor of one of the kingdom’s top two newspapers.

The comments are contained in a research report on gender and employment in the Swazi print media industry.

Nok’thula Hlophe studied the experiences women have as journalists in Swaziland by interviewing men and women who work at the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer. Hlophe interviewed people of different ranks from reporters to editors and senior managers.

The two comments highlighted above represent just two of the discriminatory attitudes women journalists face in Swaziland. Of the people interviewed by Hlophe, men mostly held negative views of women in the newsroom.

Here are some of the comments reported.

One male reporter said that the number of women in the newsroom should be kept to a minimum. ‘Journalism is not office work but more like field work, there are assignments that women cannot handle because there are so many factors governing their natural being.’

A male senior editor said that there were few women in the newsroom because when recruiting only a few proved their capabilities.

The male senior editor said, ‘Women fall pregnant and cannot do the job very well. That period requires the reporter to stay away for some time and we lose a lot in the process. Some males get drunk and never turn up for work and others lose stories in the process. In worse situations management is forced to fire reporters.’

A male reporter said that there are no particular problems with women reporters. The problem is that women do not want to compromise their commitments such as marriage.

Another male reporter said, ‘If you could come into the newsroom after 5pm you could notice how impatient women become to leave.’

Seemingly working conditions in the media clash with the roles that women are expected to play. A female reporter said that the newsroom conditions are unfriendly for women because of their commitments. She said, ‘Every day we are expected to be at work by 8am and most of the time we leave around 9pm, you can imagine how bad the situation is for married women’.

Not all men had negative views. A male reporter said it was ‘necessary to have both men and women in the newsroom because we complement each other.’

Another male reporter said, ‘Journalism is not a muscle job so women are capable of doing the job men are. In our newsrooms there is too much male domination and that you can tell by merely reading the newspaper.’

Unsurprisingly, Hlophe, who undertook the research while a student at the University of Swaziland in 2004, wrote that women reporters believed that gender equality should apply in the newsroom.

A female reporter said, ‘Women are as capable as men are so they should be given the equal opportunities as men but what confuses me is that how can we have such a large number of men in the newsroom when there are many capable women out there?’

Another female reporter said that the main problem women faced was stereotyping. They are told that the best can never come from a woman and they believe it. As a result women were stagnant and did not strive for the best. ‘Even the little things they do are not given the attention they deserve because they never focus on their jobs and lack self-confidence.’

Another female reporter said that women tend to shift responsibilities to men, not because they cannot do the job themselves but because they have developed an inferiority complex because they have been discriminated against in the past.

Women report being discriminated against within newsrooms. According to one female reporter, editors do not trust them with the minor assignments they do every day so it would be very hard for them to entrust them with bigger tasks. ‘When you come back from covering an assignment the Editor will breathe down your neck questioning every statement you write such that you can really feel that this person doubts your work,’ she said.

Women journalists reported they were treated differently outside the newsroom, as well as inside. Sources tended to take advantage of female reporters and sometimes intimidated them because they knew women could be soft targets and that costs the women good stories. ‘The employers do not understand this and as a result women are perceived as incompetent,’ according to a female reporter.

Contrary to what the male editor said about women having a ‘naturally low’ productivity and output, a woman reporter told Hlophe that gender does not affect performance and productivity was monitored in the newsroom. ‘I learnt from this that performance does not have anything to do with whether you are male or female but it is about how you deal with the situations you face: do you have confidence in yourself?’ she said.

A male reporter said it was difficult to detect the failure or incompetence in women because the number of women in news reporting roles was so small. ‘The fact that they are never given major responsibilities they are always given easier assignments makes it even harder because it is obvious that they cannot fail to do a simple story from a press release.’

The attitudes to women displayed in Swazi newsrooms reflect those of Swazi society generally. A woman senior manager said, ‘Women are relegated to a lower level by culture such that if women rise to higher positions in society some people view that as an abnormality. The belief is that a women’s place is in the kitchen.’

In the research Hlophe reminds us that media play a large role in promoting (or not) gender equality and in the past the Swazi media has been seen to be perpetuating gender inequality by concentrating on men alone.

Hlophe puts the situation in Swazi newsrooms in a larger context. She quotes Gender Links saying that women’s voices are underrepresented across the media in Swaziland and are virtually missing in certain topics. Older women are invisible in both the print and the electronic media. Women’s voices are not even heard in proportion to their strength in occupational categories, such as agriculture.

This situation is unlikely to change anytime soon if the negative attitudes male dominated newspapers have to their own women staff is anything to go by.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

ADVERTISERS ‘CONTROL THE MEDIA’

An article in the Swazi Observer on Tuesday (6 November 2007) accused advertisers of being able to decide what is and what is not published in Swaziland newspapers.

The writer Mfankhona Mkambule accused some (unnamed) companies of having formed strategic partnerships with certain media outlets. Mkambule says that since the advertisers bring in the money, media outlets are afraid to upset them in case they take the money away.

‘In this way’, he writes, ‘the media does not expose their dirty linen. They tolerate it with a smile. In most cases, those who bribe the media with advertisements have skeletons in their closet. In order for the media to paint a good picture of the goings-on behind the scenes, it is imperative for them to dangle a carrot – and the hungry media would rather compromise journalistic ethics than letting it go.’

Mkambule gives no evidence to support his claims, but I have written before about what I think is the too-close relationship between the mobile phone company MTN and the newspapers (especially the Swazi Observer).

There is a bigger issue here than just whether one advertiser or another is keeping ‘dirty linen’ out of the newspapers.

The argument that is missed by Mkambule is that mass media can play a vital role in achieving development goals and contributing to social change but in reality there is little incentive for privately owned media groups to create development-type material if this threatens profits or works against the interests of business interests that the media might have,

Mass media that operates in a capitalist economy rely on advertising revenue for profit and the way advertisers chose where to spend their money amounts to a political discrimination; this is because advertisers are more interested in reaching people who have money to buy things.

The main influence on spending is income: the rich buy more of most things than the poor. So, the media are more interested in writing stories or producing radio and television programmes that would be attractive to people with money to spend, and attractive also to advertisers who wish to sell their goods and services to them.

Advertising provides the principal financial backing for commercial mass media across the world. Just about every commercial newspaper in the world gets more of its income from running adverts than from the price readers pay to buy the paper.

In order to make sure the money keeps rolling in from advertisers (and in the case of the Swaziland newspapers, this includes advertising from the government) the media tend to protect and promote the interests of the big companies and government departments that advertise.

This is why the media tend to support the general ruling economic and political interests in a country and suppress alternate views. This means that the media are more interested in profit making than in giving out public information.

A major problem with advertising-dominated media is that to achieve profitability media companies must maximize audiences and they therefore prefer to provide entertainment rather than ‘public interest’ material.

If you look at the survey I did of Swazi newspapers you can see how this works. In the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland, the combined ‘sport’ and ‘entertainment and leisure’ categories (the most entertaining material in the newspapers) equal 44 percent of total space dedicated to editorial in the Observer and 40 percent in the Times.

The small size of the advertising market in Swaziland, combined with a substantial government share of total advertising expenditure, poses major problems for press proprietors, editors and journalists. Apart from the more obvious problems of repression and censorship, governments are able to sway editorial policy and news coverage, and indeed put out of existence newspapers which are seen as contradicting or questioning government policy, simply through the withdrawal of essential advertising revenue.

Although there is a partly free press in Swaziland, newspapers are heavily dependent on government advertising and this places the Press in a difficult financial position if it tries to protect the public against bad government. There is a fear that newspapers cannot ask uncomfortable questions for fear of losing advertising revenue and instead reproduce public relations material on behalf of the government. It is difficult to judge whether this is happening in Swaziland at the present time, but my observations of recent articles, especially in the Times of Swaziland, is that the newspaper is not concerned on this point.

In his article, Mkambule reminds us that the former Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini threatened to withdraw advertising from one newspaper if it continued to publish negative things about the Government. ‘The bone of contention was that government could not financially support a media house that turned around to bite the hand that feeds it,’ Mkambule wrote.

Mkambule calls on the Minister of Public Service and Information S’gayoyo Magongo to hold an inquiry into the relationship of advertisers and the media they support. Quite what form this inquiry should take he does not say. But the truth is that in a market orientated capitalist society those with the money will always enjoy greater power than does who do not.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

MEDIA FOR DEMOCRACY

‘Democracy won the day’, the Times of Swaziland told us on Monday (5 November 2007) when commenting on the weekend’s local government elections.

It went on to applaud voters for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of choice.

On the face of it things might be looking up in Swaziland, an undemocratic kingdom ruled by an autonomous king.

But, even the Times acknowledged that not many people actually went out to vote.

Both the Times and the Swazi Observer had pages of coverage on the elections in their editions on Monday, but apart from a passing reference to voter apathy in the Times' editorial neither newspaper made any reference to the low turnout.

And the figures weren’t so much low as minute. All over the kingdom candidates were being elected by so few people you could fit them all into a bus. Running my eye down a list of winning candidates I can see a candidate who won with a total of 31 votes, while other winners had 56, 49, and 36 votes.

Looking at these pitiful figures, I think we can safely say that ‘democracy did not win the day’. Nobody won, but the fact that the newspapers missed the big electoral story (the low turnout) speaks volumes about the Swaziland media.

One of the definitions of ‘democracy’ is ‘a system of government by the whole people’. On that definition what happened at the weekend does not constitute a ‘democracy’ and these elections were a sham.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland and there is nowhere safe for people to meet and discuss politics. It is no wonder that when ‘election’ time comes people ignore them, through fear or apathy.

Next year Swaziland has its national elections. Again, political parties will be banned and people will be asked to vote for candidates on the basis of their individual abilities.

It is difficult to organise politics in Swaziland, even at election time. In the last national elections in 2003, political meetings in Swaziland were allowed, but only with the permission of the Election Office. Once permission was obtained campaigns were then held in the tinkhundla centres, (local state-controlled offices) the only venue where such meetings can be held. The Electoral Office and representatives of the local chiefs ran the meetings. This effectively meant that the state was able to control all public political discussion.

A Commonwealth election monitoring team criticized Swaziland’s lack of press freedom during the elections and expressed disappointment at government-owned Radio Swaziland’s reporting on the campaign, saying that restricted coverage reduced voters’ knowledge of the candidates and harmed their ability to hold candidates accountable.

In its editorial on Monday the Times said that by the 2008 elections ‘people should have made some intelligent choices in candidates’. But it is not clear how they can make these choices unless the Swazi media help them.

I don’t blame the journalists. They suffer in the same way as the Swazi people. They don’t really understand what ‘democracy’ is since few of them have lived in a democratic country. A state of emergency was in force in Swaziland for the past 34 years imposed by Royal proclamation in 1973. The new Swazi Constitution does little to encourage democracy since although it allows freedom of association it effectively bans political parties.

There may be some hope. The Times editorial at least identifies the problem, ‘We need men and women of high integrity, who are willing to put people first, refuse to be corrupted by greed or the system and be willing to step down as a matter of principle without fear if they do not subscribe to the self serving interests of certain individuals in this country. That is how important your vote is’.