Times of Swaziland Newspapers has once again misrepresented an international report on the political situation in the kingdom in order to protect the name of King Mswati III.
In the latest, the Times Sunday distorted a report from what it called the ‘reputable’ Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa about Swaziland’s parliamentary election, due sometime in 2013.
The Times is the only major media house in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati, that is not under state censorship.
It reported ISS saying that there could be violence around the time of the election, as a result of ‘public dissatisfaction, stemming particularly from among other things, governments unsatisfactory activity in the year 2012’.
The Times Sunday reported, ‘It said such had worsened and had also been exacerbated by the government’s failure to heed demands from the unions for reduced expenditure and a pro-poor budget.’
But, in fact, what the ISS report, called Swaziland’s non-party political system and the 2013 Tinkhundla elections, actually said was, ‘Public dissatisfaction in 2012 has been exacerbated by the government’s failure to heed demands from the unions for reduced royal expenditure and a pro-poor budget.’ The Times deliberately censored the word ‘royal’ to distort the meaning of the sentence.
The Times Sunday report contained some of the criticisms of the Tinkhundla system of elections used in Swaziland that ISS defined as ‘organised certainty’ since they reproduce the prevailing political status quo in Swaziland. But it did not tell its readers what ISS said about the ‘status quo’, otherwise known as King Mswati’s rule as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In an analysis of the role of the monarch in Swaziland, ISS stated, ‘Royal controls, checks and balances have mostly stifled political discourse. Questioning or criticising the monarchy or related structures is equated to being “unSwazi”’.
ISS called Tibiyo TakaNgwane, the economic conglomerate that controls a number of businesses in the kingdom, including the Swazi Observer newspaper group, supposedly on behalf of the nation, a ‘closed, largely secretive, mega entity that accumulates wealth for the monarchy. Through it, patronage and nepotism are believed to be rewarded.’
On freedom of expression and the press, ISS said, ‘Although guaranteed by section 24 of the Constitution, the king may waive these rights at his discretion.’ It goes on, ‘The law empowers the government to ban publications if they are deemed “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health”. This is typified by habitual self-censorship on the part of the media especially concerning political issues or the royal family.’
On the 2005 Constitution and the king, ISS, said, ‘The power of the king in every sphere of governance was maintained, except for the removal of his right to govern by decree.’
It also pointed out that the king has the right not only to assent to parliamentary bills, but also to withhold his consent.
The distortion of the ISS report by the Times Sunday is nothing new from the newspaper group. Last month (February 2013) it misrepresented a report on the kingdom by international business consultants KPMG that criticised King Mswati III for the political crisis that had stagnated the economy and said protesters were calling for the king to give up his power as an absolute monarch.
The report said that if banned political parties were allowed to contest this year’s national election and they won a majority of seats, ‘it is possible that the king would respond by revoking the constitution and trying to rule by decree’.
The Times misrepresented the KPMG report by deliberately leaving out key words and phrases that criticised the role of monarchy in Swaziland.
For example, this was one of many of the many distortions: the Times reported KPMG saying, ‘Although the protests have been sparked by the fiscal crisis, they reflect a range of deeper-rooted issues: the mismanagement of public money and government’s stubborn resistance to calls for democratic reform.’
But this is what KPMG actually said, ‘Although the protests have been sparked by the fiscal crisis, they reflect a range of deeper-rooted issues: the extravagance of the royals and the political elite, the mismanagement of public money and the government’s stubborn resistance to calls for democratic reform.’
The Times group has a long history of deliberate distortion when reporting on criticism of King Mswati.
On 21 October 2012 the Times Sunday published a report about a petition sent by a group in the United Kingdom called the Swaziland Vigil to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
According to the Times Sunday, the petition read in part, ‘Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on (the Swazi government) to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDS drugs in Swaziland.’
The newspaper inserted the words ‘the Swazi government’ into the petition to make it seem that it was Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and his cabinet that was being criticised.
In fact, the petition sent to Cameron actually read, ‘Petition to the British Government: Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on absolute monarch King Mswati III to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDs drugs in Swaziland.’
The Swaziland Vigil made it very clear that it was criticising ‘absolute monarch King Mswati III’. The Times Sunday deliberately distorted the petition to deflect criticism away from the king.
‘TIMES’ CENSORS CRITICAL REPORT ON KING
THE STATE OF SWAZI JOURNALISM 2013