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Friday, 31 August 2007

LOST HISTORY OF THE 'CHRONICLE'

Who remembers the Swaziland Chronicle newspaper?

It was published every Wednesday in the early 1960s at a time when Swaziland was still a ‘territory’ of its colonial ruler, Britain.

I saw some copies of the Swaziland Chronicle in the British Newspaper Library in London last year. I’d never heard of it before and no one I have spoken to since can tell me anything about it.

The first edition of the newspaper, which had 16 pages, was published on 4 May 1960 and the paper believed itself to be the ‘first wholly Swaziland-owned paper ever to be published in the territory.’

In an article in the first edition headed ‘We Make Our Bow’, the paper demonstrated that it was a small affair. It told its readers,

‘We are not in a position to maintain a staff of experts, nor do we think it necessary for there are in the Territory plenty of enthusiastic amateurs who know their subject quite well enough to write competently about it, and who would enjoy doing so.

‘To these people, be they fishermen, photographers, bird-watchers or stamp collectors, gardeners or canasta fiends, the CHRONICLE throws open its columns.

‘If a housewife has a brainwave about canning fruit, or a literary type wants to publish his favourite quotation, or anyone else would like to share ideas and interests, we shall be glad to hear about it.’
One person who took the newspaper up on the offer called himself ‘Small Man’. He reported on the Mbabane Rugby Club, which had just had its first match. ‘There was a silver collection among the crowd,’ Small Man notes.

He obviously didn’t think he was getting his money’s worth. ‘But if we are going to pay willingly we are justified in expecting something worthwhile from the players. They owe it to the paying public to get fit,’ he moans.

The main story of the first edition was about a new sugar factory opening at Mhlume, but the newspaper was not really interested in hard news. This story about Sir John Maud and Lady Maud who were on a short visit to Swaziland and at the Residency was much more typical. The Chronicle reported that in a ‘clever, yet short speech, Sir John had the guests in fits of laughter. It is so nice to be able to meet people like Sir John and Lady Maud and such a pity that we see so little of them.’

The British Newspaper Library’s collection of the Swaziland Chronicle ends on 22 November 1961. By this time the paper was only publishing four pages a week. Maybe it went out of business. If anyone knows anything about the Chronicle I’d be interested to hear.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

BIASED REPORTING OF REED DANCE

This year’s annual Swazi Reed Dance (Umhlanga) takes place this coming weekend (2-3 September 2007) and the Swazi media have gone into overdrive to cover the preparations.

The annual ceremony at which women from all over the kingdom dance half naked in front of the king is controversial, not least because of the way women generally are treated in Swaziland. Swazi culture dictates that women are ‘minors’ with no legal rights and who are effectively ‘owned’ by their menfolk (usually fathers and husbands).

There is also the expectation (often not met) each year that the king will choose one of the maidens to be his next wife.

Yesterday’s newspapers had reports of ‘maidens’ (mostly young women) signing up to take part. Depending on the newspaper you read there were 50,000 or 55,000 people registered.

The controversial nature of the event means that news media need to be cautious in their reports. The Swazi Observer showed no caution in this report published yesterday (29 August 2007).

The report headlined, ‘Swazi maidens celebrate virginity’ had the following opening paragraphs:


‘This year’s Umhlanga (Reed dance) ceremony commenced yesterday for thousands of proud Swazi maidens to celebrate their virginity.

‘Those who doubt themselves will hide their bodies and shy away from the traditional event.

‘Others, who will boycott the event, are those that have been polluted by perverted teachings of foreign preachers, who have made sure that Swazi culture and traditions are undermined while their pockets are bulging with money collected as tithes from gullible Swazis.

‘Luckily, God has been on the Swazi side and not much has been achieved to turn people away from their culture.

‘This year will be no different as the best of Swazi colour will be there for display for nations of the world to watch and cherish. The Reed dance has been described by many observers as the most colourful cultural event in the world.’

The report then goes on in similar fashion for many more paragraphs.

In case you are in doubt this report appeared on a page of National News, and not as an opinion column.

If you take the report at face value you are led to believe that the ceremony is uncontroversial, that every woman in Swaziland wants to take part and only those who are not virgins or who have been brainwashed will stay way. According to the report, women who have been ‘polluted’ by ‘foreign preachers’ will not attend the ceremony.

The news report is not a ‘news report’ at all. If you take a very basic definition of ‘news’, news must be about something that is currently happening (which this report is) and it needs to be based on facts and also have some kind of balance when matters of controversy are involved. The report fails in both of these last tests.

Article one of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists Code of Conduct states that a journalist should provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information. This report fails article one comprehensively.

The ‘Swazi maidens celebrate virginity’ report fails the news test, but any regular reader of the Swazi Observer would not be too surprised that it is biased in its reporting. The Observer supports ‘traditional’ culture in Swaziland and is after all owned by a company that is in turn effectively controlled by the Swazi Royal Family.

The Observer is also big on fundamentalist Christianity and enjoys moralising, as this paragraph from the report testifies,

‘Taking part in the Reed dance is the pride of each and every well-meaning
Swazi maiden, who prides herself on keeping her body pure from earthly
contamination like early sex and outright promiscuity.’

We have many more days of media coverage of the Reed Dance to look forward to but let’s hope that the standard of reporting gets better.

To help the Observer a little: there are a number of ‘rules’ about news reporting that journalism students or professional journalists who are just starting out learn from day one. Among them are that in a news story you should:

- Stick to the facts.
- Do not give your own opinion.
- Keep the report simple and avoid adjectives.
- Act as an observer to the event, not as an advocate.
- Do not get too close to the story.


I hope that is of some assistance.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

TV NEWS IGNORES THE PEOPLE

What is the point of television news in Swaziland? I ask this after reviewing several weeks’ worth of evening news bulletins on both of the kingdom’s channels: Swazi TV and Channel S.

The chief executive of Swazi TV Vukani Maziya told a public meeting in June 2007 that the station was going to become a public service broadcaster (PSB), and open up the airways to give more people the chance to get their views heard.

Martin Dlamini, the government’s Director, Information and Media Development, at the same meeting, supported the idea of PSB, describing it as a way to ensure people have ‘the fundamental right to freedom of expression’.

These are fine words but as is usual in Swaziland people in authority tend to say one thing in public and behave quite differently when out of the spotlight.

A very good way to test the fine words is to watch the programmes on the stations and see for oneself what they are doing. One revealing place to look is at the news bulletins and notice who is allowed onto the airways and to listen to what they are saying.

If you take the news bulletins of either of the two Swazi television channels you will see that most of the reports are mundane run of the mill events, such as government media conferences, presentations of donated materials, or workshops from NGOs

In theory, news on television can give space to people who do not have a place to air their views. But for this to work the reports that appear on television need to be of high quality, relevant and useful to the audience. Television needs to allow the expression of a full range of opinions and matters of public concern.

If you watch news bulletins in Swaziland (both Swazi TV and Channel S are the same in this respect) you see that the news is dominated by ‘official’ voices. These are representatives of the monarchy, of government or of non-government organizations.

I have been to events in Swaziland at which government ministers or their representatives have given a welcoming address before the business proper of the day begins. Time and again the television stations will record the official statement of the minister before packing up the camera and moving on, leaving the main purpose of the event uncovered. This shows that in Swaziland it is who is saying something that is more important than what is being said.

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.

About 72 per cent of Swazi people live in rural areas and they are not being represented in these bulletins. It is impossible for a television viewer to know what kinds of stories originating from outside Manzini and Mbabane are being missed and exactly how much rural people are at a disadvantage in terms of having their voices heard.

The quality of the journalism on the bulletins is low. Newsgathering in Swaziland (and I include radio and newspapers here) tends to be passive and the media rely on official sources such as the government, police and emergency services for their stories.

The television journalists over-rely on powerful elites as sources and journalists do not pro-actively find alternative sources to provide balance to stories. Reporters tend to receive information from a single source and re-present it unquestioningly in reports.

Journalists tend not to give background information to the stories, even those running from day to day. Instead, they opt for revisiting stories over a period of time, introducing new elements in each new episode. In this way committed viewers might be able to piece together the different parts of the story into a comprehensible whole. But each new episode tends to include only one source, thus there is no balance of views or attempt at interrogation of the powerful.

This demonstrates the biggest single advantage of the present television system to the existing elite of people who run the kingdom. Swazi journalists are unable to 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.

So what is the point of television news in Swaziland? Currently, broadcasters in Swaziland serve the interests of the ruling elites and not those of the people. They make sure that no criticism of the status quo in Swaziland gets on the airwaves and there is no reason to believe that this will change any time soon.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

NEWS AND ADVERTISING BLUR

The launch of a new cellphone product last week raises ethical issues about the blurring of the lines between news and advertising.

On Friday (24 August 2007) both the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer newspaper had front page lead stories about the launch by cellphone company MTN Swaziland of a new service that offers subscribers reduced rates. The package was described by the company as the first of its kind in the world.

Although both newspapers considered this launch to be so important to warrant making it the main news report of the day, the Observer went a long way further by also devoting two inside pages to the news.

Devoting three pages of a 36-page edition of the Observer to a commercial story might raise doubts about the news values at newspaper, but that is not what concerns me at the moment. The real issue is that the Observer chose to highlight the headlines on the two pages in the shade of yellow that MTN uses in its corporate logo. In addition, there were five pictures on the two pages, all with the MTN logo prominent, and in total there were at least 25 people shown wearing MTN T-shirts and caps, all in the corporate colour and all with company logos.

The importance that the Observer placed on the story can be judged by the fact that all the reports on the product launch were written by the Observer chief editor, Musa Ndlangamandla. The reports extensively quoted MTN company members saying how special the new product was. It was often referred to as a ‘world first’.

In case you were wondering, this ‘world first’ referred to a tariff programme that allowed Pay As You Go customers to get already existing cheap rates anytime of the day and not just at specific times. As ‘world firsts’ go this is pretty small beer.

Despite the use of the MTN corporate colour and all the pictures of the T-shirts and caps, this report was not an advertisement. It was journalism: albeit pretty lousy journalism.

There is something going on between MTN and the Observer. Only the previous Monday (20 August 2007) the Observer devoted another two pages (in the corporate colour yellow and with 11 pictures of people in those T-shirts and caps) about MTN. This time the report was about the start of MTN’s 21-day corporate responsibility programme during which staff visited a hospital and helped to clean up the grounds.

So, in the space of five days the Observer has given five pages to MTN. There is no evidence to suppose that MTN has made any payment for this space, rather it seems they are being given a massive free advertisement.

The saga of MTN and the Observer is important because in the Swazi press generally there is a blurring of the line between what is news and what is promotion or advertising.

There is a strong tradition in newspapers and magazines across the world of offering companies and organizations the opportunity to pay for favourable editorial content to be placed in their publications. This kind of editorial is sometimes known as advertorials, advertising features or supplements. Whatever you call them, they are all stories that provide direct support to advertisers.The ethical problem arises if the publication does not make it clear to readers that they are reading paid-for ‘sponsored’ editorial, rather than freely written, independent journalism.

Advertorials are advertisements (text and pictures occupying paid-for space), pretending to be independent editorial content. They exist because they can make money for publishers. Advertisers like them because editorial in newspapers is trusted more than adverts. However, the same argument is used by people who oppose them. Many times, the readers do not know that what they are reading lacks the credibility of editorial matter. The media in such cases choose not to clearly state the fact of an advertorial being one.

One piece of research conducted in India discovered that only eight people in a sample of forty were able to distinguish between independent editorial content and advertorials, suggesting that the media often choose not to clearly state paid-for text as being just that.

The example of MTN and the Observer blurs this line a little since it would appear that the Observer willingly gave MTN space that gave direct support to MTN, offering uncritical coverage of its product launch, using the corporate colours and publishing pictures of company T-shirts and caps with MTN logos. They did all this but there is no evidence that the Observer took money from the company for all this publicity.

But there are other examples in the Swazi press where advertorials or supplements are published without it being made clear to readers that what they are reading has been paid for by advertisers. Two recent examples of this are the three-page supplement on the refurbishment of Thokoza Church Centre dining facilities (16 August 2007) and the two-page Pre-School Supplement (23 August 2007): both published by the Times of Swaziland.

Unless, newspapers are trying deliberately to mislead their readers they should take as much care as possible to distinguish between paid-for editorial and independent editorial. To reduce the confusion they can do the following:

- Label all paid-for editorial in one of the following ways: ‘Advertisement’, ‘Advertising feature’ ‘Advertising supplement’. It is important to get the word ‘Advertising’ or ‘Advertisement’ in there somewhere so there can be no doubt that what is published is not independent journalism.

- Use a different type face for headlines and body text in advertorials and supplements. This will make the paid-for material look different from independent editorial.

- If reporters who generally write independent editorial for the newspapers have been assigned to write advertorials do not put the report’s name (by-line) on the advertorial. In this way readers who recognise the reporter’s name will not mistake the piece for independent journalism.

Monday, 27 August 2007

GIVE US NEWS, NOT GOSSIP


This is what passes for major news at the Swazi News.

On Saturday (25 August 2007) the main story in the entire newspaper was about two unnamed ‘radio personalities’ who had sex in a studio at a radio station (not, I hasten to add while broadcasting). A security guard with no name saw them and someone with no name (possibly the same security guard) told the Swazi News.

The Swazi News reporter contacted Stan Motsa, the director of the radio station, SBIS, who said he knew nothing about the matter.

The reporter also contacted someone called Mncedisi Mayisela for comment. The newspaper doesn’t say who Mayisela is, so he could be the boy who makes the tea at the radio station, but I’d guess he might be something to do with the human relations department. He said he wouldn’t comment until he is given a mandate to do so. (It is not clear what he is talking about here, but again I’ll take a guess. He means he needs to talk to his boss).

The news report on the Swazi News front page was headed ‘DJ, NEWSREADER CAUGHT HAVING SEX IN STUDIO’. That seems clear enough, except the story itself which was published on page two was all over the place on the central basic ‘fact’ of having sex.

First, the report says they had sex, then it says, ‘it is not clear whether they had penetrative sex in the studio’; then it says they had ‘wild sessions’ (notice the plural, it happened more than once).

To add further confusion the report calls the couple ‘alleged lovebirds’ and says they had ‘alleged sex escapades.’ No, come on tell us: did they have sex or not?

The reporter says, ‘It’s a fact though, that the two radio personalities were called before a former human resources officer concerning the alleged sex escapades in the studio.’ If it is a ‘fact’ how is that the reporter cannot get anyone to confirm it happened? Also, what’s this about a ‘former’ human resources officer? Does this mean the alleged incidents happened some long time ago in the past?

To recap: we have two unnamed people who may or not have been having sex in a radio studio. Another unnamed person saw them and reported them to the newspaper. No one at the radio station will confirm that anything at all happened.

This is not news. This tale of illicit sex (if anything really did happen) is the kind of gossip about friends and colleagues that we like to share in the pub and the Swazi News’ report is about as coherent as a guy who is on his eighth pint of beer.

Newspapers have important roles to play in any society and these roles include keeping people informed about what is going on around them, allowing a wide range of points of view to be published and making people in positions of power account for their actions. Nowhere is this role more important than in Swaziland today as we try to create a more participative, equal and democratic society.

The Swazi News might like to reflect on this a little before serving up similar non-stories in future.

Friday, 24 August 2007

PARLIAMENT INTIMIDATION GOES ON

Fresh evidence of the Swazi Parliament’s attempts to intimidate journalists and media workers emerged this week.

The latest victim is Stan Motsa, director of the government-controlled radio service SBIS. A committee of MPs accused him of abusing his position and the radio station to settle old scores with MPs.

The Minister of Public Service and Information S’gayoyo Magongo has been asked to launch an urgent investigation and to report within two weeks. The minister takes a ‘hands-on’ role in broadcasting in Swaziland and believes that he has the right to make day to day decisions that affect the broadcasting organisations.

The committee also alleges that some news reporters at the SBIS radio and state-controlled Swazi TV have been accepting bribes to promote certain individuals.

The move against Motsa follows closely Parliament’s attempt to sanction the editor of the privately-owned Times Sunday newspaper for expressing himself about the affairs of the House of Assembly in a commentary in his publication. This matter has still to be resolved

DEREK GOES TO AFRICA (3)


A group of Americans have travelled half way round the world to Swaziland to paint a church, build a chicken coup and fence off some gardens … and to report on television how they are giving Swazis ‘the hope that they deserve’.

Here is the third in the Derek Goes to Africa series. In the two previous reports Derek Van Dam, a man who reads the weather forecast on a local television channel NBC25, told viewers how he and a group of missionaries from a church in mid-Michigan state in the US had been preparing for a trip to Swaziland.

In this latest report broadcast in America in July 2007, the group have actually arrived in Swaziland to work at the El Shaddai orphanage.

This item, which was broadcast during NBC25’s evening news programme describes Africa as a land of ‘poverty, disease and hunger’. Derek (pictured above with children in Swaziland) tells viewers, ‘The words cannot describe, convey, something of this magnitude.’

These television reports and others like them are important because very little about Swaziland gets covered in the foreign media. This is even more so when you look at countries outside the continent of Africa. Because of this people know very little about the kingdom. What little they do know they learn through the media.

Unfortunately, Derek knows nothing about the context of what he is experiencing. Swaziland is not one of the poorest countries in the world: it is not even one of the poorest in Africa. Swaziland’s economic problems stem from the way wealth is distributed within the kingdom and that unequal distribution is why about 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line

Derek lists the things he and his group have done since arriving in Swaziland. They include making fences to keep cattle off crops, painting a church and fencing in property.

The report and all the others in the Derek Goes to Africa series lack self-awareness. There is really no reason for people to travel half way round the world to perform mundane tasks like this group have been doing. Swazi people are quite capable of doing things for themselves. The misguided belief that inadequately trained people can assist people in communities which are totally unknown to them is patronising.

I don’t want to be critical of people who probably have kind hearts, but the people in Derek’s party, and many more ‘missionaries’ who come to the kingdom on similar trips contribute very little to Swaziland.

Derek gives the game away a little when asked about his experiences. He says, ‘It has changed everybody’s life.’ He means the lives of the missionaries. He is particularly emotional when reporting that the orphanage took in two children who had been orphaned by AIDS. What did he expect an orphanage to do, especially in a country with the highest rate of HIV in the world?

You can see the report which lasts about four minutes here

Thursday, 23 August 2007

SELF-CRITICAL SWAZI JOURNALISTS

The media in Swaziland are unprofessional and irrelevant to the people of the kingdom. Some journalists willingly work as propagandists for the state. Journalists can hardly write an intelligible sentence and the media houses are making little or no effort to improve standards. The news media lack credibility and many people see journalists as lacking in education and experience.

Anyone who reads newspapers or listens to radio or watches television in Swaziland might agree with some or all of the above. What makes the comments so important is the fact that the people making the criticisms are Swazi media professionals themselves.

This is Vusi Sibisi, a columnist with the Times of Swaziland, writing about the print media,

‘Content is invariably compromised by a lack of professionalism in the sourcing, writing, editing and positioning of news articles in the newspapers to the extent of weakening their retainer value. Interesting news stories are watered down by the incomprehensible way they are written, leaving the reader confused and bewildered’

Sibisi is one of Swaziland’s media professionals who contributed to a special edition of the newsletter Khulumani, published by the Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, another of the contributors, believes one of the biggest concerns about the media is the quality of news that makes it to the news pages.

‘Sex and murder have become the only events that make the front pages in the newspapers today.

‘Issues of national importance like the Constitution and the rampant corruption in government are rarely, if ever, reported on. News analysis no longer exists even though the Observer has more columnists today than at any other time in its history.'

There is no longer investigative journalism in Swaziland because there is too much fear in newsrooms with journalists intimidated and threatened into submission. Michael Motsa, of the Media Institute for Southern Africa, says because the media have become so docile and timid public officials have grown arrogant and are doing as they please because they are no longer afraid of the press.

This view is supported by Bheki Makhubu. ‘Today, public officials have absolutely no fear of the media. Arrogance has set in among public officers and politicians who bully the media practitioners into toeing their line while corruption and many wrongs go unchecked in this country where any form of opposition to our politics is still not allowed.’

Editors in Swaziland work under enormous pressures, some of these pressures come from within their own media houses and others from outside.

Ackel Zwane, news editor of the Swazi Observer, says, ‘Pressure mounts on the average editor from advertisers and administrators who have a different mandate from that of journalism.’

Zwane acknowledges that some editors suppress certain stories because they do not support the points of view being expressed.

Vusi Sibisi reveals that government in Swaziland uses a subtle policy of assimilation through which it rewards those journalists who toe the line with political positions or as ministerial private secretaries. This has engendered a culture of self-censorship from the cub reporter to the editor.

Some journalists willingly work as propagandists, especially at the government-controlled SBIS radio. Sibisi says journalists see their role as propagandists of the government of the day.

Listeners believe SBIS radio is used as a weapon for the government to attack its adversaries.

Sibisi says, ‘Some of the radio journalists have appropriated to themselves the prerogative to decide who is and who is not an enemy of the state and the government. Thus they have made themselves the attack dogs whenever someone criticises government.’

The whole profession of journalism is in disarray. People with talent leave jobs in media houses because of bad salaries, lack of career structures and poor on-the-job training.

Swazi journalist Bongiwe Zwane says, ‘Lack of employment has forced people into careers they would never have chosen – that is the reason the newsrooms have people who do not want to be there. Being forced by circumstances into a job shines through in the way one does the job. It is usually without zeal or passion.’

Editors lack a pool of trained reporters in their newspapers. Zwane says, ‘the stories that get to their desks most of the time are poorly written, not balanced and often “not news”. This is primarily because most of them are school leavers who have not had the training.’

There is a more general concern with what Swazi professionals like to call the ‘juniorization’ of their industry. The exodus of the best qualified and experienced personnel has led to this ‘juniorization’ of newsrooms whereby the less good young and inexperienced journalists, often untrained and seriously lacking in skills and competence, are left to staff the newsrooms and occupy high editorial positions.

Junior editors have no nose for news and concentrate on petty things while ignoring the problems faced by society.

Lunga Masuku, publisher of Youth Connexion magazine, sees something more sinister in the ‘juniorisaztion’ process. Media owners promote junior reporters into the position of token editor so that the owner can control more easily what goes into the newspaper.

‘This is sometimes caused by the fear that the media owner has towards the senior journalist who will at most tell the publisher where to get off. After all, the senior is a professional in the field and does not need advice from the publisher.

‘In order to keep the profession at exploitable levels publishers have made sure that these inexperienced editors have all the rights under the sun. Some can go to the extent of firing journalists without consulting publishers.’

Masuku goes on, ‘Most of the junior editors surround themselves with lapdog reporters who can hardly write a story and the only survive on handouts in the form of press releases’.

The media houses make no effort to improve the skills of staff as the president of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists, Alec Lushaba, says, ‘Even in this day and age, anybody can still walk into the newsroom and claim to be a journalist’.

Once on the staff in media houses, scarce resources make it difficult for journalists to gain insight and to specialise in specific areas of journalism. There is a lack of continuous in-house and further training, and lack of transparency on upward mobility opportunities and security of tenure in the journalism industry.

All of the above comments were published in 2005, but it is difficult to see much improvement in standards of journalism in the past two years. Only this past Saturday (18 August 2007) both the Weekend Observer and the Swazi News reported comments made by Swazi Television chief executive Vukani Maziya who criticised the Swazi Observer newspaper.

Maziya was upset that the Observer had reported that equipment worth E16 million (1.1 million British pounds, 2.2 million US dollars) owned by the television station had been destroyed in a fire. Maziya said this was not true. He said no one from the Observer had contacted him before publication.

The Weekend Observer reported that Maziya made his comments at a meeting to launch Kusile, the station’s new breakfast time programme. It reported Maziya saying that there was a high probability that many people did not believe stories written by the Observer because reporters at the newspaper did not bother to check their facts.

Media professionals also came under attack at the same meeting from the Minister of Public Service and Information, S’gayoyo Magongo. He criticized Swazi TV staff members who arrived at least 30 minutes late for the meeting. ‘It is even worse when the people that come in late are the ones hosting the event,’ the Weekend Observer reported him saying.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

'TIMES SUNDAY' CALLS IN AMNESTY

The Times Sunday has enlisted the help of human rights organization Amnesty International in its fight to find out the truth behind the police shooting of Ntokozo Ngozo.

The newspaper contacted Amnesty International for help once it heard from witnesses that Ngozo was shot in cold blood by police while unarmed.

Meanwhile Swazi Police has said it will hold its own internal inquiry into the circumstances of the shooting with one of its own regional commanders at its head.

Amnesty International has taken up the case and has hired lawyers to investigate. One of the first things the lawyers did was to work with an independent pathologist from Durban, South Africa.

The pathologist refused to start work on Ngozo’s body because an X-ray had not been taken of the corpse. The Times Sunday reported (19 August 2007) that police tried to have the body examined without having an X-ray taken. It reported the pathologist saying that taking an X-ray was a standard procedure before post mortems and he was not prepared to break the rules. It was the police’s responsibility to arrange an X-ray. Eventually an X-ray was taken and a post mortem performed. The result of the post mortem has not been released.

Amnesty International, a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights, has previously reported on the failure of the Swazi government to call the police to account. On 20 January 2006 it released a statement to renew its call ‘on the government of Swaziland to take immediate and visible steps to prevent the torture and unlawful killing of crime suspects and political opponents by the police.’

The statement said that Amnesty International had written to King Mswati III as Swaziland’s head of state, ‘to express its concern that the government's failure to act against torture is persisting, contrary to the obligations of Swaziland under international and regional human rights treaties it has ratified and contrary to the new Constitution's Bill of Rights. The alleged torture of some of the detainees currently facing trial for treason is one more manifestation of the consequences of the government's long-standing failure to make the police accountable for their actions.

‘In failing to take measures to prevent torture or ill-treatment, to promptly and impartially investigate reports of torture or ill-treatment, or to bring suspected perpetrators to justice, the government is repeatedly ignoring the new Constitution's Bill of Rights, the findings of independent experts and coroners, the criticisms of police conduct made by judicial officials at trials, and court judgments upholding the claims for redress lodged by victims of human rights violations. It is also ignoring appeals made by civil society organizations for police conduct to be consistent with international human rights standards.’

You can read the full statement from Amnesty International here

Amnesty International has been monitoring alleged human right abuses in Swaziland for many years. To read some of the organization’s reports on Swaziland click here

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

'SUNDAY' PROBES POLICE KILLING

The Times Sunday has accused the police of lying about the killing of Ntokozo Ngozo, a known criminal and political activist.

The police say Ngozo was armed and dangerous, and police had to shoot him dead to protect themselves.

But the Times Sunday (19 August 2007) has found witnesses who say that police shot Ngozo in cold blood while he had his hands up and was pleading for his life.

Reporter Charles Matsebula of the Times Sunday has found two witnesses who say that Ngozo was shot four feet from the doorstep of the house he was staying in. Ngozo was half naked wearing only a pair of jeans and walking barefooted. He was not armed. His hands were up in the air and he begged the police not to shoot but they shot him point blank.

WITNESS ONE told the Times Sunday that the house was surrounded by police and Ngozo realised he was about to be arrested. ‘Wearing only underwear, he run to the back door and locked it. He came back and quickly put on his pair of jeans and half naked, barefooted, he walked to the front door very slowly with his hands up.’

The eyewitness added, ‘He took one step, coming outside the house and stepping on the ground. Police were in front of the house watching him.

‘At that moment, a voice from the police officers who were behind the house shouted, “If it’s Ntokozo shoot him, if it’s Ntokozo shoot him” and they fired. He cried out loud when hit by the bullet as he pleaded for their mercy, but they fired again and he fell on the ground still crying.’

The witness added, ‘I knew that Ntokozo had no gun with him because he was sleeping naked then the police arrived.’

WITNESS TWO told the Times Sunday that police officers used him as a human shield to protect them against any possible gunfire. He said, ‘Someone from behind shouted, “It’s Ntokozo. It’s Ntokozo, shoot him, shoot him”, and there were gun shots and everybody ran for cover as at first most of them did not see who was shooting.’

The eyewitness added, ‘When I tried to look, Ntokozo was already on the ground. They [the police] pulled me back and we went out of the kitchen and went around the house to where he had been shot.’

The eyewitness said that Ngozo pleaded with police not to kill him. Ngozo spent two hours groaning in pain while police interrogated him about criminal activities. Police also interrogated two other people who were at the house.

The Times Sunday has also established that police did not take Ngozo to hospital immediately as police had claimed.

According to the newspaper, the police arrived at the house in Nhlangano about 7am and immediately confronted and shot Ngozo. Witnesses say they did not take Ngozo away from the scene until just before 10am, by which time he was dead

Times Sunday reporters later saw Ngozo’s body at the morgue. The Times Sunday reports, ‘At the morgue, this newspaper found Ngozo’s body still half naked, proving that he had not been wearing anything during the time he was shot. Bullet holes could also be seen in the stomach but police refused further inspection the moment they realised we were taking pictures.’

On the Monday immediately following the shooting which took place on Saturday morning the Times of Swaziland (13 August 2007) quoted the police public relations officer Superintendent Vusi Masuku on the incident.

Masuku is quoted as saying Ngozo was killed by police in retaliation as he had opened fire on the police who were closing in on him at his hideout.

Masuku is quoted saying, ‘Police acted on a tip off from an anonymous caller and they reported to the scene. The police introduced themselves after cordoning the house.

‘Amidst their introduction a shot was fired from inside the house and the suspect Ngozo came from the house running and officers tried to stop him but he did not comply.

‘Subsequently he was shot with an intention to incapacitate him and he was injured. He was later conveyed to the Nhlangano health centre where information about his death was disclosed later that evening.’

On Tuesday (14 August 2007), the Times of Swaziland quoted Masuku saying that the police conceded that Ngozo had not been armed.








Monday, 20 August 2007

GENDER SENSITIVITY IN THE MEDIA

Today’s Swazi Observer (20 August 207) has a special eight-page supplement on gender in the Swazi economy.

It contains reports and feature articles on a range of topics including how women are moving up in the business world and ‘gender bending’ women who are making a success of work in areas that are traditionally thought of as male preserves. Among the highlights is the story of Ntombiyenkosi Mabuza, a woman with no arms who sews clothing and baby blankets using her feet.

The supplement makes interesting reading as it contains the kind of stories about women that rarely get into the media in Swaziland.

The supplement was written and produced by participants at the Business Unusual workshop that took place in Mbabane all last week. The workshop was conducted by Gender Links with the support of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) and the Netherlands Institute of Southern Africa.

Participants were invited from all the main media houses in Swaziland, but most did not attend. Business World magazine was there all week, SBIS radio turned up for most of the lunches, but the main newspapers and television only made fleeting visits.

Third year journalism diploma students from UNISWA did most of the work in the supplement. It is sad that more people from the mainstream media did not attend the workshop, because if what they produce in their newspapers, and on radio and television, every day of the week is anything to go by they need to think a lot more about the way they report on women.

A great example of this need happened this week (even as the workshop was in session). On Tuesday the finalists of the Business Woman of the Year Awards (BWYA) was announced at a breakfast meeting. Swazi TV went and filmed the opening speakers at the event who were both men. As soon as the women started speaking, the camera was packed away and Swazi TV left.

The following day (Wednesday 15 August 2007) the Swazi Observer ran reports on the event. The main story headed Fresh List of BWYA Finalists quoted only men and the two pictures the newspaper used to illustrate the story were both of men.

The Times of Swaziland did better. In its report it quoted one woman and two men.

One of the sessions at the Business Unusual workshop was about how to get a better gender balance in reporting.

Here for anyone who is interested here are some of the tips participants were given:

- In your reporting reflect the diversity of age groups, social classes, ethnic groups, physical characteristics of women.

- Include more than one perspective or one voice in the story.

- Include more than just the views of men, and the views of only men and women who are in positions of power or formal authority.

- Seek out the ‘missing’ voices – be proactive.

- Represent women in a way that allows them to speak with dignity and authority

- Be conscious of language that reinforces stereotypes.

Friday, 17 August 2007

TRIAL BY NEWSPAPER

An unsavoury case of ‘trial by newspaper’ has been unfolding in the Swazi Observer this week.

It began on Tuesday (14 August 2007) with a report of a man from Manzini who says he was shot at by police while driving his car late on Sunday night. The Observer quotes the man saying that he was almost forced off the road by a police car.

Not knowing for sure that the people in the car were police officers, the man drove away at speed. There was then a car chase in which the police were said to have fired bullets at the man’s car.

The man managed to escape the police and eventually he went home where he discovered that some of the bullets fired by the police had hit his car. The man told the Observer that he later reported the incident to the police, but the police denied any knowledge of the matter.

At this point we have a speculative news report that mostly rests on the testimony of the man. A reporter and a photographer were able to interview the man and take a picture of what appears to be a bullet hole in the car. The police were asked for their side of the story but were unable to confirm the man’s story.

At this point it appears to be a legitimate news report. But next day, the Observer took the incident in an entirely new direction.

In a report headed ‘Readers react to businessman story’, the Observer (15 August 2007) says it was ‘inundated with mixed responses’ to the story and that readers were ‘particularly divided on the alleged car chase’.

It is noticeable that the original report as published took the story from the man as fact. By the next day in its report it had become an ‘alleged’ chase.

The report then goes on to state, ‘Most readers felt they were not convinced by the reasons offered by the businessman as to why he did not stop when he realised he was being followed by the police.’

At this point in the story the honesty of the driver is being doubted. The problem here, of course, is that readers are in no position to judge one way or another on the incident. They were not witnesses to the incident and have no personal knowledge to draw on. All they have is what was written in the newspapers and as I have argued before the accuracy of the Swazi news media cannot be trusted.

Even though the readers cannot be judges in this case, that does not stop the Observer promising that it will be publishing a collection of comments from its readers the following day (Thursday).

But by Thursday (16 August 2007) events had taken a new turn. The man had been arrested and charged by police for a series of traffic offences. The Observer reported he had been taken to court and released on E1,000 bail. Even though a court case was now pending the Observer repeated many of the comments from readers it had published the previous day.

Then illogically, it ran a note saying that it could no longer publish the new comments from readers as it had intended ‘because the matter is now before the court.’

So to recap: over three days the Observer published a story based on a driver who says he was chased and shot at by police. It then published comments from readers who did not believe the man’s story (even though readers had no way of knowing one way or the other what the truth might be). Finally, the newspaper reported that the man had been charged with motoring offences and appeared in court.

Throughout this reporting the Observer had shown complete disregard for the rights of the driver. It was unfair coverage because it chose to doubt the truth of the man’s story. It did this, not by sending a reporter to interview and question him closely about his story, but instead by publishing comments from readers. Finally, even after the man had appeared in court it repeated some of the comments made by readers doubting the truth of the man’s story.

The Observer has stopped being a newspaper that reports on facts; instead it has become the carrier of gossip. It is in effect encouraging its readers to gossip about the incident and to give unfounded opinions. This is in much the same way that we might gossip about someone we know when we are with our friends in the pub or coffee shop.

By encouraging and printing this gossip, the Observer has damaged the reputation of the man. It has done this by careless and unfair reporting. It has put the man on trial and found him guilty. For its own reasons, the Observer chose to encourage readers to judge the truthfulness of his story, even though the readers had no way of knowing what the truth of the matter could be. By concentrating on the readers’ doubts the Observer has found the man guilty of lying. That is the job of the courts, not the media, and that is why this is a case of ‘trial by newspaper’.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

TELEVISION ON THE INTERNET (3)


The Swazi Royal Family is just like any other family in Swaziland. That’s the view of some of the wives of King Mswati III who are interviewed in the short film, Queens of Swaziland.

The film talks to the wives, their children and to the king himself about their culture and their lives, in latest in this blog’s occasional series of television items that are available for viewing on the internet.

The film is made by Journeyman Pictures, which describes itself as London's leading independent distributor of topical news features, documentaries and footage.

The film interviews the king’s wives about the lives they lead. It seems that in between shopping trips they spend their time making art and weaving beads. There are also some official functions to be fitted in.

The wives say how much they love the king. The king says how much he loves the wives. The children, we are told, must relate to the king but they are not allowed to call him ‘daddy’.

At the time this film was made (about the year 2000) the king had seven wives. It is thought he now has 13, but officially this is information the Swazi people are not allowed to have.

The wives say there is no competition between one another. They all get along just fine.

One of the roles of the wives is to bring up the children. They must instil discipline and ‘Godly fear’ into the children.

The film has a public relations quality about it and it is no surprise to learn that the Swaziland Ministry of Tourism had a part to play in its making.

The film has no context. Viewers get to see palaces but you won’t learn that about 70 per cent of the king’s subjects live below the official poverty line. Nor, would you know that the king’s lavish lifestyle has always been a matter of controversy.

You can find the film which lasts about 22 minutes here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

DEREK GOES TO AFRICA (2)


Here’s the second in the series of filmed reports from the United States, Derek Goes to Africa.

A TV station called NBC25 has been following the exploits of Derek Van Dam, who is the man who reads the weather forecast on the station’s breakfast time news show.

In a series of reports that the station has called ‘Derek Goes to Africa’, NBC25 follows Derek and his church friends as they prepare to travel to Swaziland to visit El Shaddai orphanage and then it reports on what happens to Derek when he gets there.

These reports and others like them are important because very little about Swaziland gets covered in the foreign media. This is even more so when you look at countries outside the continent of Africa. Because of this people know very little about the kingdom. What little they do know they learn through the media.

This item, which was broadcast during NBC25’s evening news programme, follows a diverse group of people; they are described as young and old, as they embark on team building exercise before setting off on their journey to Swaziland.

Dale Woods, a pastor at the New Covenant Free Methodist Church, one of the trip’s organizers, says ‘as Americans we are part of a culture that is incredibly selfish.’

But they want to see ‘how can I put someone else first.’

Woods says El Shaddai orphanage has a ‘desperate need for help.’

When they get to Swaziland the group will build fences to keep livestock off the crops. Crops will be harvested to feed the hungry. It’s not made clear why a group of people need to travel half way across the world from America to Swaziland to perform tasks that Swazis are perfectly capable of doing themselves.

Perhaps Derek gives a clue when he says, ‘Our spare time will be spent embracing each of the Swazi’s needs.’

He also tells us that each of the participants are wearing bracelets on their wrists as a constant reminder of why they are going.

Perhaps this trip isn’t really about helping Swazis so much as giving a group of Americans a chance to ease their own consciences a little.

Make up your own mind. The clip which lasts nearly three minutes can be seen here.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

KING ‘CHANGES MIND’ ON PARTIES

Tuesday 7 August in Malaysia King Mswati III tells the world that (previously banned) political parties are allowed in Swaziland.

Monday 13 August Swaziland newspapers report the king (now back home) saying that nothing has changed.

So what happened between Tuesday and Monday? If I was a betting man I’d have a hundred bucks to say that the shadowy cadre of people who ‘advise;’ the king reminded him that political parties would give Swazis a choice to vote them out.

On another note, still in Malaysia: the king told journalists that the issue of poverty is high on Swaziland's agenda. He was asked by a reporter how many poor people there were in Swaziland. To find out what he said, click here

INACCURACY: SOURCES SPEAK OUT



A row between a school in Mbabane and the Swazi Observer gives us an interesting insight into the accuracy of news reporting in the kingdom.

The Observer published a front-page story (9 August 2007) in which it claimed that four senior boys at Waterford Kamhlaba private school had been hospitalised after taking illicit drugs.

The following day in a humiliating climb down the newspaper published a ‘right to reply’ from the school’s principal.

In the reply, the principal identified four main areas of error in the original news report. The Observer admitted that the news report had misquoted him and had taken information and quotes from another source but attributed them to the principal. It also admitted that it had confused quotes from students and made them sound as if they came from an official school spokesman. It also turned out that the students had not taken illicit drugs but had drunk tea made with the flowers of the moonflower plant and had become sick, unaware of the poisonous nature of the plant.

As I have written before it is important for journalists to be accurate in their reporting because readers must feel they can trust what’s in the newspaper. In this case the principal’s confidence in the Observer is now so low that he has stated that he will not speak to the paper’s reporters in future. At best, he will make comments to the newspaper in writing only, so that his words are not distorted.

What we as readers cannot know is how often gross distortions of information are published in Swazi newspapers. We know about this particular case because the source at its centre is an educated person who knows how to complain to the newspaper’s editor. He complained and his ‘right to reply’ was immediately published. But, how many uneducated and ignorant people get badly reported in newspapers but never know how to complain?

There is some academic research that gives us an insight into how often newspapers make mistakes. Philip Meyer surveyed people who had been used by newspapers in the United States as sources in news stories. Meyer wanted to find out from these news sources how accurate they thought the reports were.

Meyer also asked the sources why they thought errors happened.

The main reason given by sources, when asked to judge why the reporter made a mistake, was simply that the reporter didn’t understand what he or she was writing about.

Here are the top seven reasons for errors and the percentages of sources that named them:

1. Reporters didn’t fully understand the story - 29%.
2. Pressure to get the story done on time - 23%.
3. Not enough research - 16%.
4. Events surrounding the story were very confusing - 15%.
5. Laziness on the part of the news staff - 12%.
6. Reporter didn't ask enough questions - 12%.
7. Reporter didn't ask the right questions - 12%.

In his study, Meyer puts errors in three categories: Objective (misspelled name), Subjective (out of context, exaggerated, sensationalized), Maths (percentages, etc.)

Of the more than 5,100 stories Meyer examined, 21 per cent had an objective error, 18 per cent a maths error and 53 per cent a subjective error. Interestingly, the sources for these stories were more likely to forgive a subjective error, thinking that the reporter was either too dimwitted or too biased to get it right, than a maths error. After all, maths is factual, and if you can’t get the facts right than how can you get the context right?

For more details of this research see Tim Porter’s essay First Draft here

Monday, 13 August 2007

SISTERS DO IT ON THEIR OWN

Recently I commented about how the Times Sunday denigrated women and encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace.

A reader has pointed out that this kind of attitude to women is nothing new in the Swazi press. Each week there are ‘pin up’ photographs of women wearing next to no clothes (The Weekend Observer and Swazi News are the main offenders here).

Then there are the items in the Times Sunday ‘Style’ section which report on dance clubs and such like which make young women look like empty heads who have nothing on their minds but sex.

There was a particularly nasty example of this a few months ago. The Times Sunday (31 December 2006) had a front page picture of two young women with their arms around each others neck and appearing to kiss one another with the headline ‘It’s not in our constitution, but … Sisters do it on their own’. There was then a ‘taster’ headline directing readers to a further four pictures on page 3, which included the two women on a crowded dance floor of a nightclub in Pigg’s Peak.

The four pictures were similar to one another and they show the women engaged in what the newspaper terms ‘French kissing’.

One picture caption sums up the paper’s mood, ‘They just could not resist each other and revellers did not bother them while at it.’

Not only were the pictures unethical because they treated the women as sex objects to titillate men, but they also invaded the privacy of two totally innocent young women who were in a public place enjoying themselves. The newspapers, against the Swaziland National Association of Journalists’ own Code of Ethics, violated their privacy. Article five states quite clearly that journalists should respect the right of the individual’s privacy and human dignity.

A report that accompanies the pictures further intrudes into the women’s privacy. We are told the women were seemingly together with a couple of boyfriends whom they were regularly seen dancing with and even had a meal together. The report then recounts that the two women got on the dance floor and started and continued kissing ‘with French kissing that could easily make it into the Guinness World Book of Records as the longest same sex kiss inside a packed club.’

Revellers went on to enjoy the show while the two remained stuck on each others’ lips.

No attempt was made by the photographer to talk to the women and there is no obvious reason why this is a news story worthy of the front page except that it is titillating to male readers.

This is nothing new in the media where women's bodies are used to attract the attention of men and to sell products. The pictures and accompanying story in the Times Sunday show two women being offered to the reader as objects to be leered over.

The problem is that we have become so used to seeing women treated in this way that it is considered ‘normal’. How can we be surprised by this in a kingdom in which the Miss Swaziland beauty contest is seen as an important cultural event?

Generally, the media use women’s bodies to try to make profit. The assumption is that having pictures of sexually attractive women sells newspapers. Advertisers also use images of ‘attractive’ women to sell their products.

They may be on the wrong track, however. The Gender and Media Audience Study, published by Gender Links, which surveyed people in Swaziland about what they liked in the news, found that the vast majority of both men and women interviewed said they find sexual images of women in the news either ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘insulting’. Only a tiny proportion of women and men said they are encouraged to buy the newspaper or watch the news as a result of such images.

As the study states, ‘The gap between media decision makers and consumers should be pause for thought.’

DSTV SCORES AN OWN GOAL

There are a lot of unhappy football (soccer) supporters in Swaziland. The start of the English Premier League (EPL) this month saw a reduction in the number of matches screened on SuperSport (part of the MultiChoice/DSTV satellite television service).

In what may turn out to be a public relations disaster, SuperSport promised in advertisements that subscribers would get more football this year. Instead, supporters in Swaziland of EPL (considered to be the top league in the world) will get to see fewer games. Even in South Africa, where SuperSport is based, viewers will be seeing fewer EPL matches than last season.

The reason (of course) for this is money. Competition for satellite television subscribers is increasing across sub-Saharan Africa and where in the past SuperSport had exclusive rights to screen the EPL in sub-Saharan Africa, from this season that has changed.

Now, no single pay-TV company in sub-Saharan Africa will be able to screen all of the EPL. The EPL has from this season been tiered into three packages: one with 80 per cent of the matches, one with 20 per cent and another with about 10 per cent which has been offered to free to air channels.

SuperSport in Swaziland has rights to the package with 20 per cent of the EPL games. The lists of exactly which games will be covered by the various packages is not made public so nobody knows if they will screen all the games that involve top teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool.

MuliChoice/DSTV is facing greater competition for viewers this year. For example, GTV, a subsidiary of Gateway Communications, branched out this year into pay TV by starting satellite broadcasts in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The company soon plans to move into several other countries.

According to GTV there is a big untapped market for viewers in Africa. The goal of GTV is to reach 250,000 subscribers by the end of next year, and one million within three or four years. It plans to operate in up to 25 countries by the end of 2008.

Outside South Africa, where MultiChoice has 1.3 million customers, pay-TV has mostly been affordable only to a small elite and to international hotels. MultiChoice, a subsidiary of Naspers, a South African media conglomerate, has about 450,000 subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa, a region with a population of more than 700 million.

Other African pay-TV operators have only small national or regional presences. CanalSat Horizons, part of Canal Plus of France, is available in Francophone regions of West Africa, for instance.

In a region where even basic over-the-air television programming - not to mention colour sets or disposable incomes - is in short supply, many broadcasters assumed until recently that the market for pay-TV would also remain limited. But the rapid spread of mobile phones across Africa has persuaded them that there might be an opportunity in satellite television.

Following football is one thing, but actually watching matches is another. Pay-TV has been too expensive for most people, and many free, over-the-air broadcasters have been unable to afford sports rights.

But that may be changing. Some conventional broadcasters are starting to add football programming as international competitions increase and as organizations like the EPL break up rights packages that used to be sold as a block. This could be an opportunity for Swazi TV to make an inroad into EPL broadcasting.

Friday, 10 August 2007

KING’S CENSORSHIP – UPDATE

Here’s a quick follow-up to my report on Wednesday that King Mswati III had told the world’s news media that political parties in Swaziland were no longer banned. The Swazi media ignored the story.

This was important news because Swaziland had just been through a two-day national strike (with more strikes promised) to try to get the government to allow political parties.

I speculated that the Swazi media did not run the story because it had not originated from an official media statement from the king.

The managing editor of the Times Martin Dlamini confirms my suspicion. Writing in his weekly Just Thinking column in today’s paper he says that when he returns from foreign trips, ‘His Majesty provides journalists with an opportunity to pose questions on his trips, so let’s give His Majesty an opportunity to share this with his people.’

Or put another way: the managing editor is saying that the Times is not staffed by independent journalists who go out and find and report news, instead they are public relations scribes for the king. When the king decides to tell the newspaper something it will print it.

The Times needs to think carefully about the service it gives its readers. In the same column Dlamini says that people learned of the king’s statement on political parties through the Associated Press (maybe they were reading Swazi Media Commentary). Dlamini says, ‘My phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people either shocked, excited or dismissive of the reports.’

Any newspaper worthy of its name would be publishing the story of the king’s comments and follow up reports on reaction from Swazi people. Instead, the Times remains silent.

PREJUDICE AGAINST MUSLIMS RIFE

The news that a group of Muslims in Mbabane were mistaken for cannibals has once again raised the issue of how Swaziland’s news media reports on ‘outsiders’.

A report in the Swazi News (16 June 2007) said the newspaper had been ‘clogged with calls of panicking members of the public.’ People had also ‘flooded’ the police with fearful calls after they saw strangers in the city. The report says that the fears were sparked by an ‘invasion’ of the Mbabne, Nkhaba and Nkomazi areas by Muslims.

The newspaper went on to report that the city (Mbabane) and the nation ‘remains worried and specifically scared.’

The following week (23 June 2007) the Swazi News reported that the ‘cannibals’ were in fact a Muslim prayer group from Pakistan. It then printed this extraordinary paragraph, ‘Obviously confused by a group of at least 15 men with heavy beards and of foreign origin it was easy for everyone to refer to this group as cannibals.’

It is not clear how anyone can make a rational connection between men with beards and men who eat human flesh.

Part of the answer may be with the Swazi media themselves. Swazi journalists have a history of perpetuating a range of negative stereotypes about Muslims seeing them as terrorists, and generally violent and untrustworthy.

The Swazi media does not often write about Muslims but when it does it does so with a great deal of prejudice. A fine example of this was in June 2005 when it was announced that Christianity would be dropped from the new constitution that was about to be signed and the country would thereafter have no ‘official’ religion.

The coverage began in The Times of Swaziland with a front page headline and picture covering 70 per cent of the tabloid sized page: MUSLIMS ARE TO BLAME – PASTOR JUSTICE DLAMINI (Times 13 July 2005). The Pastor, a leader of an evangelical Christian church, blamed the Islamic community as responsible for Christianity being excluded from the kingdom’s Constitution. He said that if the clause were removed disaster would befall the kingdom, as Muslims would get an official platform for the Islamic religion into Swaziland. He said, ‘It is clear that the invasion of the Islamic religion would mark the beginning of violence and terrorism in the country’. He also predicated political and economic disaster.

‘It is obvious even to a small child that the Islam community have a strong hand in the removal of this clause. It is therefore clear that the removal of the clause is the means of paving an official platform for the Islamic religion into Swaziland,’ he said.

Pastor Justice Dlamini also claimed that God had personally chosen Christianity to be the religion of Swaziland.

There was no reference in the news report as to where the remarks were made, nor was any evidence given to support the assertion that Muslims were plotting against Swaziland, suggesting that there may have been collusion between the pastor and the newspaper to start the controversy over Islam.

Pastor Justice Dlamini had set an agenda that other journalists were quick to follow.

Not everyone agreed with the pastor’s interpretation of the Islam threat but his theme of ‘violence’ and ‘terrorism’ was taken up the next day by Times' columnist Vusi Sibisi where he described the pastor’s comments as an ‘overt declaration of war against the Islamic faith’.

The ‘holy war’ theme is continued in the Observer the next day by columnist William Mamba who asserted that the Christian community has drawn first blood in a holy war.

The Islam theme continued in the weekend newspapers and by this time it was clear that all newspapers assume that their readers were Christian (or at least not Muslims). The Times Sunday (17 July 2005) even assumed that this would be the first time in their lives that its readers had encountered Muslims and so provided a brief overview of Muslim lives (concentrating on their holidays) and an interview with a prominent Muslim cleric talking about what it means to be a Muslim.

The king intervened in the debate and stated that Christianity needed no special protection because it originated with God. Unsurprisingly, considering the power of the monarchy in the country, the newspapers supported this view. Typical was a comment column in the Times (27 July 2005), ‘the king hit the nail on the head’. Nimrod Mabuza wrote, ‘His point was that Christianity is capable of not only surviving on its own but also capable of swallowing other religions that do not originate with God. Sadly, the king stopped as I was still craving for more.’

Many writers make reference to how central Christianity is to Swazi life and to the belief that God has in some way ‘chosen’ Swaziland as a special place. Pastor Justice Dlamini takes this further. He believes that he personally has been chosen by God and is directly speaking God’s words: in effect saying that if you disagree with me you are going against God’s will.

‘I am an ambassador of Christ, an Ambassador of heaven. I represent the Kingdom of my God and its interests on the planet. All my actions are representative of the Kingdom of my God.’ (Weekend Observer 15-16 August 2005).

Reading the newspapers you get the clear message that Christianity has a supreme place in Swazi life as exemplified by Pastor Justice Dlamini’s assertion that ‘even a primary school child knows’ that Christianity is superior to other religions. Swaziland has a special place in God’s heart and He has chosen Pastor Justice Dlamini to be His spokesman on Earth.

With this background it is not surprising that newspapers have some difficulty when reporting and commenting on non-Christian religions. Generally speaking Islam is under reported and I have been unable to find any news reports or comment pieces that originated with positive news about the Islamic community. There is an assumption – correctly since only 1 per cent of the Swazi population follow the faith – that the newspapers’ readers are not Muslim and they probably do not personally know anyone who is Muslim.

Reading the news reports and comment pieces we can identify the following traits of the Muslim as seen by the Swazi press: all of them are negative.

The Muslim

… is warlike. The newspapers leave an overwhelming impression that the Muslim is violent, war-like and engaged (or about to engage) in terrorism.

… has an inferior religion. No amount of information to the contrary will contradict the media’s belief that Christianity is the only true religion and that therefore Islam is fake.

… is plotting against the country. A clear accusation that they plotted to have the Christianity clause removed from the constitution to undermine the kingdom, which is built on solid foundations of Christianity.

One of the consequences resulting from the shortcomings in Swazi journalism is that the Swazi press is perpetuating a range of negative stereotypes about Muslims (terrorist, violent, untrustworthy) and a consensus is assumed that the readers (Us) are not like the Muslims (Others).

The press helps to create a consensus among Swazis that the place of Christianity is central to their lives. It is assumed as a matter of fact that the interests of the whole Swazi population are undivided, held in common, and that the whole population acknowledges this ‘fact’ by subscribing to a certain set of Christian beliefs.

My comments here have centred on the Swazi press and the reporting of the Muslim threat, but the press is not alone in misunderstanding and misreporting Islam; Swazi television and radio does no better. Nearly all broadcasting in the kingdom is state controlled and the only ‘independent’ broadcasting media is a Christian radio station. Nowhere is non-Christian religion afforded status. It was difficult to find much coverage of Islam in Swaziand in the kingdom’s news media, but it was impossible to find anything about other religions, such as Hindi or Buddhism.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

NOBODY’S PERFECT AT THEATRE CLUB

Theatre and cinema arts are not well represented in Swaziland. There is not a single cinema anywhere in the kingdom and very little live theatre.

One group that aims to keep theatre live in Swaziland is the Swaziland Theatre Club and the group has its latest production next week.

The Swaziland Theatre Club and fat rex productions are presenting Nobody’s Perfect.

This play stars Mike Nann, Sindi Nxumalo, Tanya Aab and Pietro Berardi.

It follows the story of Leonard (Nann) a shy statisitician who lives at home with his wayward daughter (Aab) and his ribald father (Berardi). Secretly, Leonard is a novelist and he sends off his novel to a females-only writing competition under the pen name of a woman, Myrtle Banbury. He wins the competition but has to pretend to be a little old lady to collect the prize money! Unexpectedly, he falls in love with the publisher, Harriet (Nxumalo), who much prefers his female alter ego to his actual dorky self.

What follows is a hilarious romp through the family, gender and, ultimately, love.

The production of Nobody's Perfect takes place Thursday to Saturday (16-18 August 2007) at 7.30pm in the Swaziland Theatre Club, Mbabane. Tickets are E40.

Groups of 8 or more can get half -price tickets for the Thursday 16 August. Performance. Email a list of the names to jacksonrogers@yahoo.com and they will be put on the door.

DEREK GOES TO AFRICA (1)




I have been writing over the past few weeks about how foreign television stations cover events in Swaziland. I’ve also written about how some people living overseas see it as their mission to come and save Swazis.

One local television station in Michigan, United States, has managed unwittingly to combine these two themes. A TV station called NBC25 has been following the exploits of Derek Van Dam, who is the man who reads the weather forecast on the station’s breakfast time news show. In a series of reports that the station has called ‘Derek Goes to Africa’, NBC25 follows Derek and his church friends as they prepare to travel to Swaziland to visit El Shaddai orphanage and then reports on what happens to Derek when he gets there.

The reports give a fascinating insight into the way Swaziland is viewed in America.

These reports and others like them are important because very little about Swaziland gets covered in the foreign media. This is even more so when you look at countries outside the continent of Africa. Because of this people know very little about the kingdom. What little they do know they learn through the media.

Even the title of these reports ‘Derek Goes to Africa’ is faintly patronising. It reminds me of the stories we used to read as children in the UK 40 and more years ago, which featured people from England going to the Dark Continent to bring enlightenment to the savages.

In this first piece that was aired during the station’s evening news programme, Derek talks about why he is going to Swaziland with a group of residents of the mid-Michigan area (the area the NBC25 station covers). ‘We have been given an opportunity to help people who really can’t help themselves,’ he says.

Later Derek talks about the high rate of HIV AIDS in Swaziland and seems to blame Swazi parents for the number of children who have died. ‘They simply couldn’t take care of themselves or their families. It’s no wonder that 30,000 children die in Africa every day from malnutrition or starvation.’

The piece fails to put the HIV-AIDS-poverty crisis into any context. Instead, for Derek and his missionaries it is simply a case of presuming to know what is best. One missionary interviewed in the programme talks about the El Shaddai orphanage that the Americans, who are members of the New Covenant Free Methodist Church, intend to help. ‘We want to help supply the orphanage with a safe place to live and to learn and to go to school and to be fed and we’re working to get water into that community.’

This is stated as if there are no government policies in place in Swaziland to tackle these kinds of problems. Nor is it quite clear how Derek, whose job is reading the weather forecast on local television in the US, has the skills to solve health and education issues in Swaziland.

Also, erroneously the report and the others that follow state that Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world when it is not. It is not even one of the poorest in Africa.

You can see the report which lasts nearly four minutes here

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

OBSERVER CENSORS KING


King Mswati III has told the world’s news media that political parties are not banned in Swaziland. But the Swazi Observer censored the king in its report and the rest of the Swaziland media seem to have ignored the story completely.

This king made his bombshell statement yesterday (7 August 2007) to journalists during the Langkawi International Dialogue anti-poverty conference, in Malaysia.


The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted the king saying, ‘There is no ban on political parties.’


He had been asked about the state of democracy in Swaziland, AP reported. The king said of the new Swazi constitution which came into force in February 2006, ‘This constitution was a result of many people participating.’


He added, ‘The people are the ones who decided the structure as it is. There is no ban on political parties.’


The AP sent the news around the world and the report has appeared in many newspapers and broadcast media, including South Africa’s News24 radio and Business Day newspaper


But the Swazi Observer chose to publish the AP report in its edition today, without the crucial line, ‘There is no ban on political parties.’


The unbanning of political parties should be major news in the kingdom. Two weeks ago there was a general strike in Swaziland to press, among other issues, for political parties to be allowed to contest next year’s elections. Trade unions had said they would hold strikes every month until their request was met.


The king in his statement has effectively ended the dispute. In Swaziland the king’s word is law. If he says political parties can be formed, then that is what will happen.


What remains unanswered for now is why did the Swazi Observer choose not to tell its readers the truth? It is all the more puzzling because the Swazi Observer is in effect owned by the Swazi Royal Family.


It cannot be that the newspaper did not know about the statement, since it chose to include the other comments the king made in his interview with AP.

Why the rest of the Swazi media ignored the story completely is also a puzzle. The Swazi media have given extensive coverage to the king’s visit to the Langkawi International Dialogue giving details of the formal meetings he has had with leaders of other countries.


One possibility for the omission concerns the way the report was gathered. AP says the king’s comments were made ‘on the sidelines of an economic gathering of African and Asian leaders in Malaysia.’ That suggests that a journalist took the initiative to question the king about a matter of controversy.


To question the king on anything controversial goes against the traditions of Swazi journalists. They are only interested in official news about the monarchy. Just listen to the state controlled broadcast media in Swaziland any day of the week for evidence of that. The newspapers are not much better.


But the news is out. People outside the kingdom now know important information about Swaziland and this is information that the king’s subjects have been denied.


The Swazi media must own up to this statement and we must see how the politicians and trade unionists react to the news.

KING TURNS TABLES ON MEDIA

Swaziland’s King Mswati III had the chance to turn the tables on journalists this week when he questioned them about the way they report the news.

The king was among a panel of several leaders from Southeast Asia and Africa taking part in the Langkawi International Dialogue, an anti-poverty conference, in Malaysia.

They were given the chance to question a group of media practitioners, which included Swaziland television journalist Sandile Mkhanya, about what the media are doing to make things happen and whether the media are ‘part of the problem in national development’.

The king had wanted to know what it takes for the media to ensure that important issues get published or aired by them. Frivolous issues divert journalists from the task of educating readers, said the king. ‘We have been talking about poverty eradication, but when you actually see tomorrow's newspapers, they will not reflect some of the important issues we have been discussing.’

Responding to the question from King Mswati III, Mkhanya said it boils down to the responsibility of the journalist when processing each news story.

The king, who is the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, was on a panel that included Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who has been widely denounced for human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.

The irony of having a panel of leaders whose own democratic credentials are in question criticising the media was not lost on the Reuters news agency. It reported Mugabe saying, ‘The press and journalists are they driven by the sense of honesty and objectivity all the time? Or are they swayed from objectivity and truth by certain notions arising from their own subjective views?’

Mugabe added, ‘I say that in the light of reports quite often deliberately intended to tarnish and deceive. Should the journalists really indulge in what they know to be misleading stories, and therefore stories that go against objectivity and the truth?’

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, another leader whose relations with the media have been uneasy in the past, expressed worries over the quality of education most journalists received.

‘How can someone who is not educated themselves educate another person?’ he asked, pointing out that historical events did not happen at random and that journalists must stress the linkages of cause and effect in the events they covered.

Museveni's government maintained tight control of news during an election period early this year, prompted by a fight to hold onto power, and expelled a foreign correspondent, says Reporters Without Borders.

Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency, covering the same event, quoted Rehman Rashid, an associate editor of New Straits Times on the role of the media. ‘Our role is to describe the world, to be mirrors, amplifiers and in so doing we change the world (in the process).’

Likening the media to a shaft of light which does not change or move things but merely makes things more visible, Rehman said the media’s role in highlighting issues enables it to achieve its secondary role of ‘changing the world’.

The Malaysian Star’s Group Editor-in-Chief Michael Aeria said government leaders or others have to keep on engaging the media to ensure that important news see the light of day.

With ‘millions of readers, different types of journalists and not all of them sharing the same passion and ideals’ of their newspaper editors or owners, he said that many a time the media needs help from leaders and the public in understanding the type of news that readers want to read and that they consider to be important.

‘A lot of times I think we are ignorant as to what you consider to be important,’ he said. ‘If you can show that we are wrong, we want your side of the story.’

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

ICT POLICY IS JUST ON PAPER

Last Saturday’s Weekend Observer was full of reports about the Swazi Government Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy launch at the Convention Centre, Ezulweni. Speaker after speaker told of how ICT will boost the economy, alleviate poverty and make Swaziland part of some globalised community.

Since the government didn’t bother to invite the University Journalism and Mass Communication Department to its ‘stakeholders’ launch meeting, I realised I’d have to educate myself on the contents of this new policy. So I logged into the Swazi Government website

You’re ahead of me on this aren’t you? Of course, there was nothing about the ICT policy anywhere. Worse than that an area containing important announcements from the government had not been updated since 16 December 2003. I don’t know what the government defines as ‘important’ but how many ‘national emergencies’ have been declared since that date? Only last month we had a proportion of the kingdom destroyed by fire.

I clicked on the link for the new Swaziland Constitution and rather like the constitution itself it doesn’t work.

I wasn’t surprised and I doubt if readers of this blog who have knowledge of Swaziland were surprised either. What we have here is a typical government smokescreen. In Swaziland it is the appearance of activity that counts. They write a policy paper, they call a meeting, they set up an inquiry. Once the paperwork has been completed and filed they forget about it.

Don’t expect any progress on ICT any year soon.

Monday, 6 August 2007

DSTV: NOTHING LOCAL ABOUT IT

The news that satellite broadcaster DSTV has created a new ‘cheap’ priced package of channels has caused excitement in some quarters in Swaziland.

The so-called Family Bouquet allows people to access 20 television channels as well as radio and music stations. The news prompted Nathi Gule, the Times of Swaziland’s television writer to prophesise that Swaziland’s two indigenous television channels, Swazi Television and Channel S, would lose the majority of their viewers to DSTV as a result of this.

Critics have complained that Swaziland’s two channels bore viewers with constant repeats of programmes or uninteresting and irrelevant material.

I assume DSTV has introduced its low cost Family Bouquet because it realises that many potential customers across Africa, and not just in Swaziland, simply cannot afford the larger packages on offer. DSTV in its on screen self-promotions presently boasts that viewers can receive more than 70 channels (which I think you’d agree makes the new 20 channel package look like very small beer).

Although, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s viewing enjoyment, I am not convinced that the DSTV package is really in the best interests of the people of Swaziland.

The problem is none of the material on the satellite channels and hardly any on the two Swazi television stations is local. Instead, viewers are given a diet that consists mainly of sport, cheap American and British dramas, soap operas, mostly American movies, and lots and lots of ‘reality’ programmes and game shows.

Even Swazi TV and Channel S broadcast next to no programmes made in the kingdom. If you take away the daily news broadcasts and studio-based interview shows there is little left of a Swazi origin. American talk show hosts such as Oprah Winfrey get almost as much airtime as all the Swazi programming put together.

It is important for television stations to provide programmes that are created locally because these programmes deal with the community’s local needs, knowledge and experience that are relevant to the community. The whole process of creating and broadcasting local content provides opportunities for members of the community to interact with each other, expressing their own ideas, knowledge and culture in their own language

The Swazis who watch television are virtually inundated with information that is culturally irrelevant to them. Also, the programmes that are not made locally often reflect language, values and lifestyles, which are vastly different from those of the Swaziland community. Extreme examples of this are the soft porn movies that the DSTV channel Action X broadcasts late at night. (It is illegal to publish and distribute pornographic magazines in Swaziland).

Television should be about more than simply beaming foreign material into Swazi homes. Mass media that are available in Swaziland should have a role in helping the country to develop and contributing to social change. Instead, the foreign made programmes portray Westernized consumer culture as attractive to people in Swaziland, even though about 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

What is really happening with DSTV, and to a lesser extent with the two Swazi TV channels, is that advertisers are deciding what gets shown. They want audiences with money to spend on the goods and services the advertisers wish to sell.

Where advertising becomes increasingly important as a source of revenue for media, entertainment packages of soap operas, music, and sports are central to attracting audiences. This is precisely the type of programming DSTV provides.

As a result Swaziland’s cultural values will be seriously damaged if Swazi children continue to be exposed to TV programmes with massive foreign content which do not promote Swaziland’s own cultural values. Today’s Swazi children are in danger of becoming ‘Anglo American’ in their mentality without ever setting foot in those countries, instead of identifying themselves with Swazi values and traditions.