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Sunday, 5 June 2011

TIMES BOSS: WHO NEEDS DEMOCRACY?

Paul Loffler, publisher of the Times of Swaziland newspapers, says Swaziland doesn’t need democracy.


He is quoted by a South African newspaper today (5 June 2011) saying the Swazi cities are clean and the local municipalities work fine, so there’s little to complain about.


Loffler, who with his family is based in Namibia, was quoted by the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa.


It was reporting on how Swaziland was ‘open for business’ despite the recent increases in protests from workers demanding democratic reforms in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.


Loffler owns the only major media in Swaziland that is not under state control or in effect owned by King Mswati. His titles are the Times of Swaziland, the Swazi News and the Times Sunday.


He was quoted by the Sunday Times saying, ‘Swaziland doesn’t need democracy. We’ve never had a genocide, we’ve never nationalised farms, our municipalities run like clockwork, the cities are clean, there are no potholes - or not many - and we have little violent crime.’


The newspaper went on to report that ‘he admitted, there is room for improvement, particularly regarding the profligate spending on unnecessary items in the face of dire poverty. The king’s proposed jet, for example - rumoured to cost in the region on $45-million - is a sticking point for many, as are the palaces, expensive cars, overseas holidays and extravagant shopping trips for the king’s wives and children.’


Lofler inherited the Times newspapers from his father Douglas Loffler.


In March 2010, Paul Loffler announced that he was to sue a tiny independent newspaper in Swaziland, the Swazi Mirror, after it reported that Loffler paid himself E1 million a month from his newspapers, while his staff worked for low wages. His lawyers said the report ‘implied our client is greedy, selfish and has no regard for the employees’ welfare’.


The Times group has a long history of kowtowing to King Mswati. In March 2011 it censored coverage from foreign media that criticised the king’s undemocratic regime; in August 2010 it censored a paid advertisement that drew attention to the king’s publicly-stated refusal to engage in dialogue with democracy advocates.


In 2009, it dropped the column written by Mfomfo Nkhambule that was mildly critical of the royal regime in Swaziland; in May 2009 Loffler personally grovelled publicly to the king after his newspaper reported truthfully that the king had purchased a fleet of Mercedes cars.


In March 2007, the Times Sunday published a report from the international news agency Afrol that criticised King Mswati and included a reference to the king’s spending, ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family.’


The article went on to say, ‘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.’


King Mswati threatened to close down the Times group unless an unreserved apology was printed. It was, and the newspapers survived.

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