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Thursday, 10 November 2016

SELF-CENSORSHIP AT ‘TIMES’ NEWSPAPER

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, censored itself heavily in a report about exploitation of sugar workers to deflect criticism away from the absolute monarch King Mswati III.

This trend of misinformation has been continuing at the newspaper for years.

The Times said on Monday (7 November 2016), ‘The new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) report is called “Swazi gold”’. 

In fact, the report was called, King Mswati’s gold:  Workers’ rights and land confiscation in Swaziland’s sugar sector.

The Times reported that ITUC said many companies made big profits from sugar. The newspaper added, ‘Sugar cane production has brought about more human suffering than development in Swaziland. Many people have been evicted and the general conditions in the sugar industry are atrocious.’

Not once did the Times report that the blame for the problem was put squarely on King Mswati.

The Times did not report the opening sentences of the ITUC report that said, ‘On 12 April 1973, King Sobhuza II decreed a national state of emergency thereby assuming total control over all aspects of Swazi public life. Political parties were banned and political activism was criminalised. Though the state of emergency was lifted in 2005, little has changed. The royal family has used Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, established in 1968 as a development fund, as the means to control the Swazi economy and to amass a large fortune.’

Tibiyo Taka Ngwane controls the sugar industry in Swaziland.

The ITUC report added, ‘The King is the sole trustee of Tibiyo and the fund is immune from all judicial review. As such, Tibiyo is able to compete unfairly in the economy, undermining local business and discouraging much-needed foreign investment (FDI).’

It added, ‘However, for workers employed in the sugar industry, the sector has no such lustre; instead, workers live in extreme poverty despite long hours and hard work generating wealth for the King. Trade union activities are highly repressed, and laws such as the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, 1938, Public Order Act of 1963 and the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 are used to suppress trade union activity.’

This is not the first time newspapers in Swaziland have censored themselves in order to shield their readers from criticism about King Mswati. The Swazi Observer group of newspapers is owned by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, and thereby the King. It was described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on press freedom in Swaziland as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’.

It is impossible to know how much censorship and self-censorship takes place in Swaziland because it is hidden. Occasionally, newspapers are found out.

In January 2014, CNN reported about US President Barack Obama’s criticism of Swaziland and its King. Obama was speaking at the tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela. 

The Times was reporting a commentary written by Frida Ghitis and published online by CNN, the international cable news channel. The newspaper reported that Ghitis said Freedom House, an international human rights organisation, described Swaziland as a ‘failed state’.

But, that is not what Ghitis actually wrote. She said Freedom House called Swaziland a ‘failed feudal state’, which is something quite different. By deliberately changing the sense of the statement, the Times deflected the criticism away from the King. 

The newspaper also did not report that Ghitis also referred in her article to, ‘dictators and their right-hand men’ who were present at the tribute to Mandela. 

Ghitis wrote, but the Times did not report,  ‘It included the likes of Swaziland Prime Minister [Barnabas] Sibusiso Dlamini, representing the small kingdom described by Freedom House as “a failed feudal state,” where the king uses photos of beautiful girls to attract tourists, “distracting outsiders from Swaziland's shocking realities of oppression, abject poverty, hunger and disease.”

In March 2013, the Times Sunday, the Times of Swaziland companion newspaper, distorted a report from what it called the ‘reputable’ Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa about Swaziland’s parliamentary election that was due in 2013. 

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 previous month in February 2013, the Times of Swaziland newspaper once again misled its readers by misrepresenting a report from KPMG Services Proprietary Limited on the kingdom by international business consultants that criticised King Mswati 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 that 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 reported that international consultants had issued a ‘gloomy’ report on the kingdom’s prospects from 2012 to 2016. According to the newspaper, KPMG predicted prodemocracy protests would take place in Swaziland over the coming year.

This is what 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.’

Top of the list for the reasons behind protests in Swaziland were, according to KPMG, ‘the extravagance of the royals’.

Again, in October 2012, the Times Sunday distorted a story about UK Prime Minister David Cameron and freedom and democracy in the kingdom, to deflect criticism away from the King.

The newspaper carried a report saying that Cameron had responded to a petition from the Swazi Vigil, a prodemocracy group in the UK. 

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 in May 2012 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 Swazi Vigil made it very clear that it was criticising ‘absolute monarch King Mswati III’.

In September 2011, the Times censored itself when it reported on a US Embassy cable that said King Mswati III was ‘advised by dishonest and uneducated people’.

The newspaper was reporting on a cable sent by Earl Irvine, US Ambassador to Swaziland, in December 2009 and leaked by whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

The cable reported Irvine saying he was told by Prince David, a half brother of King Mswati, who was also a former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, that because of the dishonest and uneducated people around him the King received bad advice.

But, what the Times did not report was the criticism Prince David made about King Mswati himself. Prince David in effect called the King a liar and said that the international community should not trust him.

The cable from Irvine said, ‘Prince David emphasized that what the King says to foreign leaders cannot be relied upon, because he always deflects and temporizes to bring pressure off himself.’

The Times of Swaziland is scared of King Mswati and knows that is it criticises the monarch he will close it down. In April 2007, the Times Sunday published a minor criticism of King Mswati, sourced from an international news agency. The king went ballistic and told the Times publisher Paul Loffler he would close the paper down unless people responsible for the publication at the paper were sacked and the newspaper published an abject apology to the king. These things were done.

The Times Sunday and other media in Swaziland constantly mislead their readers and audiences about how King Mswati is viewed outside his kingdom. In May 2012, there was widespread criticism against King Mswati’s invitation to join a lunch in London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. 

There were street demonstrations in London against the King and prodemocracy campaigners drew attention to the lack of freedoms in Swaziland and the lavish lifestyle the King enjoyed, while seven in ten of his subjects languished in absolute poverty, earning less than US$2 a day.

Inkhosikati LaMbikiza one of the king’s 13 wives who accompanied him to the lunch wore shoes costing £995 (US$1,559), the equivalent of more than three years’ income for 70 percent of Swazi people. The total cost of the King’s trip was estimated to be at least US$794,500.  

The Times Sunday, reported at the time that Inkhosikati LaMbikiza had ‘rave reviews’ from the Daily Mail newspaper in London for her dress sense, but omitted to say the same newspaper also reported, ‘Guests from controversial regimes include Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who has been accused of living an obscenely lavish lifestyle while many of his people starve.’  

There was similar criticism a year earlier in April 2011 when King Mswati went to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Times newspaper in South Africa reported at the time, ‘The controversial absolute monarch, whose country is ranked among the poorest in the world, spent much of this week playing hide-and-seek with prodemocracy demonstrators tailing him across London.’ The King was forced to change his hotel to avoid pickets.

The Swazi media failed to report any of this, but did say that King Mswati had been welcomed by business people in the UK.

See also

HUMAN SUFFERING AND SWAZI SUGAR
KING EXPLOITS SUGAR WORKERS
PAPER DISTORTS STORY TO PROTECT KING
‘TIMES’ MISLEADS ON KING’S LONDON VISIT

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