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Thursday, 31 January 2008

SWAZI MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE

Swaziland will hold its unique form of elections later this year (2008). I say ‘unique’ because although the ruling elites in the kingdom believe the elections to be democratic, just about nobody else does.

The date for the elections has not been set, but it is generally accepted they will be towards the end of the year, possibly in October or November.

As in elections anywhere in the world, the media will play an important part in keeping people informed about what is going on. In the free world it is generally accepted that the media have a prime responsibility to examine what government is and is not doing, by reporting the news, interpreting the news, influencing citizens’ opinions, setting the agenda for government action, and socializing citizens about politics and encouraging a political culture to evolve.

This is even more important at election time when voters go to the polls to elect a new government.

In Swaziland where political parties are banned, candidates are only allowed to stand as individuals. You can learn more about the Swazi electoral system here.

Most of the time the Swazi media are not very good at calling political leaders to account and this is especially so at election time. In this, the first of an occasion series of posts about the media and the forthcoming Swazi elections, I want to look back to the last elections in 2003 and see how the media performed.

In a report of the Swazi media coverage of the 2003 elections the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) found that the print media in Swaziland played an important role in keeping the voters and all stakeholders informed about the elections by their extensive coverage of the elections but the broadcast media were less good.

Here is an extract from the report.

We observed however that the approach the two main dailies; the Times of Swaziland and the Observer took was different from one another.

The Observer, seeing that it was government owned, took a conservative approach to the elections whereas the Times of Swaziland, a privately owned paper, took a progressive approach and tended to sensationalise the issues.

With regard to the content of their coverage we noted that the eight cases that arose from the primary election disputes, received more coverage in both dailies than pertinent electoral issues that are aimed at informing the electorate. The local observers and media personnel indicated that coverage by the broadcasting media on the other hand was scant. There were no programmes or any other discussions on
elections in the few weeks leading to the polling day.

The response from the contesting candidates regarding access to the media varied. Some individuals commented that there had been unfairness in terms of giving people equal access; that candidates with financial influence had greater access to the print media. And usually those featured were mostly the popular candidates, which tended to marginalise those in rural communities with no assets.

Others however commended the broadcasting media for providing equitable access.

The Swaziland Broadcasting Information Service (SBIS) they noted, allowed all candidates to canvass in the airwaves for about five minutes.

Reports from the local observers as well as representatives from the media indicated
that the use of the media by the Elections Office was very limited. Most commented that there was very little feedback from the Elections Office to the various media outlets regarding the election process.

Local observers blamed this lack of communication on the mistrust the Election Officers had for the media.

That said, at least one representative from the media outlets commented positively on the interventions of the Elections Office to ensure that pertinent information regarding the election process was regularly fed to the media.

In a related matter, we observed that there was no monitoring mechanism within the Elections Office to assess the media’s coverage of elections. This would have ensured that the media played a more constructive role in the elections.

Most media personnel commented that they were not aware of a policy, law or even a commission that ensures that elections were covered effectively and fairly or one that allocates fair and free time to all candidates.

The Commonwealth Expert Team which observed the elections in 2003 came to similar conclusions about the media. It liked the ‘vigour’ print media coverage, but also criticised the Times of Swaziland for being sensational. The report said, ‘we hope that it will do more in future to discuss issues as well as to report on personalities’.

The report found broadcasting coverage of the election in Swaziland ‘disappointing’.

It went on,


‘The limitation on resources was quoted in explanation. Radio Swaziland told us they carried short items by the candidates early in the morning, but there was little news about the election and in the week up to the poll we heard no discussion programmes or any other substantial coverage. This mattered because the majority of Swazi citizens have access to the radio, so this is the perfect medium for conveying information and
creating awareness. Although the state broadcasting media had internal guidelines there was no Code of Conduct regarding the behaviour of the media. There was no allocation of broadcast “free time” for candidate.’




The Commonwealth Expert Team also criticised Swaziland Radio coverage on the election day itself. ‘The fact that it was election day was not even mentioned on the early morning news,’ the report stated.

The report concluded that in future elections a Code of Conduct for media personnel covering elections should be drawn up. This, it felt, would ‘ensure high standard and balanced coverage’.

Such a code of conduct is not in place, but I’ll be writing in future posts about why a code would be useful and what the code could usefully include.


See also
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND

SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND

Swaziland is due to hold elections later this year (2008). Elections in the kingdom are held every five years, but the exact dates for this year’s election have not been set but it is generally expected that they will be held towards the end of the year, possibly in October or November.

To help readers who are unfamiliar with Swaziland’s unique form of ‘democracy’ here is a short background to how the system works. The information is taken from the Swaziland Election Dossier 2003 No.1 from the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) and is based on the situation as it was at the last election in 2003. I am not aware that the Constitution which came into force in 2006 has changed any of this. Political parties remain banned in Swaziland and representation in the kingdom is based on individual candidates.

If anyone knows differently, please let me know.


The current electoral system is known as the ‘Tinkhundla’ system which has been rejected by many groups for lack of democratic credentials. The Tinkhundla system is the electoral system operational use in Swaziland today – the Kingdom uses it to elect its parliamentarians by holding regular parliamentary elections under a no-party dispensation.

The Tinkhundla system is a system that has been operating purely for the basis of providing a semblance of public representation in Parliament. Parliamentary representatives are initially elected from specific constituencies or Tinkhundla through a three stage electoral process.

There are a total of 55 constituencies (Tinkhundla) in the Kingdom of Swaziland, and each constituency is further divided into several chiefdoms.

The first stage of the process entails public nominations of candidates usually between four and ten in each chiefdom.

Technically in this stage, each chiefdom chooses the candidate who will represent it at the Tinkhundla / constituency level, by secret ballot. The elected candidate in the primary elections is then expected to compete in the secondary elections, after they have been dutifully introduced to the constituents. The election process ends with those candidates receiving the most votes representing the constituency in the National Assembly.

The elected parliamentary representatives conclude the process by becoming members of the bicameral parliamentary system constituted by the National Assembly and the Senate.

The National Assembly is constituted from the 55 members elected through the Tinkhundla and ten King’s appointees. These members then elect ten members to the Senate which consists of 30 members in total; the rest of which are appointed by the King.

Public representation is also dutifully administered at the local level through a local council, also known as the Inkundla – the second level of government.

The electoral system described above has been operative since 1993. Prior to this, elections were conducted under a slightly different system. After the repeal of the Constitution in 1973, which had provided for a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, Swaziland experienced a five year break during which period no elections were held until the establishment of the Parliament Order in 1978.

In the absence of any electoral laws, the Parliament Order was introduced without much opposition. It was this Order that ushered in the unique traditional electoral system commonly known as the Tinkhundla.. Elections under this system were conducted on a non-party basis at the primary elections stage through public queuing – each voter wishing to voter for a particular nominee queued behind their favourite candidate who normally would be sitting at a gate, and the counting officer counted the voters as they each passed the gate.

Winners of these elections would then form an Electoral College from which the House of Assembly was constituted. Their only responsibility, once elected was to select 40 members from the public to make up the Parliamentary numbers. The obvious shortcomings of this system, most notably the lack of a secret ballot, necessitated a review; and this resulted in the establishment of the current system through a number of minor legislative amendments.

Needless to say, the system currently in place has its own limitations; the most serious of which, given the variation in size of the constituencies, is that usually the candidate from the largest constituency wins the secondary elections. Moreover it lacks accountability, it is non participatory and it is the least competitive form of representation in both Parliament and government.

You can read much more about politics in Swaziland and other aspects of the kingdom here.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

NEED TO AUDIT SWAZI JOURNALISTS

Journalists in Swaziland need more and better training to help them work more professionally.

This was one of the findings of the African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007 report I wrote about last Friday (25 January 2008).

One of the report’s recommendations was that a ‘skills audit’ of existing Swaziland journalists should be made. A ‘skills audit’ is a method of analysing how well journalists do the work they are paid to do.

I don’t know how likely it is that the audit will actually take place, but if a similar exercise that took place in South Africa is anything to go by, the results could be startling.

In 2002, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) published its own audit of journalism skills. The audit was undertaken because there was concern about the quality and standard of journalism in the country, and there was a need to establish the extent of the problem and find ways of dealing with it. This is very similar to the situation Swaziland finds itself in today.

The skills audit looked at journalism reporting, writing and accuracy skills among reporters with between two and five years experience.

The findings of the South African skills audit will ring bells here in Swaziland.

The report stated that one of the most pressing problems facing the media industry was the juniorisation of the industry. This is exactly what Swazi journalists have been complaining about for years.

Other issues identified in the report were:
- Reporters’ skills to properly report on and write about news events
- Mistrust between government and the media
- Transformation in the media industry
- News coverage and comment on socio-economic challenges
- Management of news, staff and infrastructure
- Apparent lack of training
- Profile of reporters

The report is too long to reproduce here but you can find more details at the Sanef website.

To give you a flavour of what the report says, here is a breakdown of what news editors said about their reporting staff:

- Development of story ideas: 30-60% of reporters do not initiate stories
- Relevant issues considered: only 10-20% consider all relevant issues
- Deadline pressure: 10-34% submit despite possible errors
- Background: 20% not sufficient
- Editorialising: 8% editorialise
- Enterprise/inventiveness: 40% not result of reporters' enterprise
- Insight: 20% lack insight
- Factual accuracy: 10% not factually accurate
- Sources: 8% not credible sources; 23% do not double check sources
- Fair/honest, balance/completeness: 10% lack skills & experience
- Sensitivity: almost 20% lack it - urgent attention needed
- Personal accountability: 30% average/below
- Possible errors/imbalance: 50% do not highlight errors


If we were to do a similar audit in Swaziland, I strongly suspect the results would not be any better.

The audit led to a lot of debate in South Africa and a main conclusion was that journalists needed more ‘training’ and better ‘education’.

Training and education may be major factors in increasing the capacity of journalists in Swaziland, but as I wrote in an article in the academic journal Ecquid Novi, African Journalism Studies, there is also a major cultural hurdle to overcome before the kingdom can produce good professional journalists.

Children in Swaziland learn informally and formally. Informal education centres on the home and community where children are taught to respect and defer to their elders. This respect and deference does not encourage a questioning attitude in people. The non-democratic nature of the country also requires people to defer to the wishes of local chiefs (who are in effect representatives of the monarch).

Formal learning takes place at school, but analytical learning is discouraged because success for both individual teachers and schools is measured in terms of the numbers of examination passes. This encourages rote learning in the classroom and the cramming of students to pass examinations.

This type of learning does not produce people with inquiring minds.

See also
SWAZI MEDIA RIGHTS STILL RESTRICTED
SELF-CRITICAL SWAZI JOURNALISTS

‘TIMES’ OF SWAZILAND GROVELS – AGAIN

It seems that my suspicion yesterday that the Times Sunday invented a source of information in a report about Swaziland Prime Minister Themba Dlamini’s trip to the Bahamas was well founded.

The Times Sunday’s companion newspaper the Times of Swaziland had a grovelling front page apology to the Prime Minister, the Swazi Cabinet and just about everybody else as well yesterday (29 January 2008).

The Times Sunday (27 January 2008) had reported that the Prime Minister took his pastor with him when he went on a trip to the Bahamas to collect an award for his ‘humanitarianism’. The Times Sunday reported that the Prime Minister said he personally paid the expenses for the pastor to join him on the trip. The newspaper then cited unnamed ‘sources’ saying that the cost of the pastor’s trip came from government funds.

Yesterday (29 January 2008), I queried whether we could believe the newspaper because it based its information on ‘sources’ which it did not name. I wrote, ‘it is very difficult to believe newspapers when they do not reveal the source of their information’.

Yesterday the Times published this fulsome apology on its front page.

In an article carried in the Times SundayPM Takes His Pastor to Bahamas – an impression was created that we were disputing the PM’s word when he said he had paid for his pastor Phila Mathunjwa to accompany him by quoting our sources as saying part of the pastor’s expenses were borne by government. The truth is that the PM paid for all his pastor’s fares. We wish to unreservedly apologise to the PM, his Cabinet and all concerned.

As apologies go this one is pretty abject. But it is not quite up to the standard of the apology made by both the Times and the Times Sunday last March when it published an article about King Mswati III after publishing this from the Afrol news agency

‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family. The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’

When this appeared the king threatened to close down the African Echo, the group that owns the Times and the Times Sunday, unless a grovelling apology was forthcoming. The apology duly appeared.

See also
SWAZI PEOPLE HAVE NO RIGHT TO KNOW
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

SWAZI PEOPLE HAVE NO RIGHT TO KNOW

News that the Swaziland Prime Minister Themba Dlamini took his pastor with him when he went on an all expenses paid trip to the Bahamas has reopened important questions about government secrecy in the kingdom.

The Times Sunday reported this week (27 January 2008) that the pastor went with the Prime Minister when he and his wife travelled to receive an award for ‘humanitarian’ work.

Details remain sketchy about what exactly the ‘humanitarian’ work consisted of. The government’s official spokesman Percy Simelane and the PM himself have never publicly explained what Mr Dlamini actually did to deserve the award.

The Times Sunday reports that the pastor accompanied the PM, and this fact is accepted, but nobody can explain why the pastor was needed.

The next part gets tricky. The Times Sunday reports Simelane saying that the PM paid for the costs of the pastor’s trip. But the newspaper also quotes ‘sources’ saying that the Swazi taxpayer footed the bill.

So we have a conflict here. Who really paid the bill? It is a pity that the Times Sunday did not name its source. As I have written before it is very difficult to believe newspapers when they do not reveal the source of their information. How can readers be sure that the newspaper didn’t just make it up?

There would be no dispute over who paid the pastor’s bill if people in Swaziland had the right to get information from their government.

Last October the Times of Swaziland tried to find out how much the PM’s trip to the Bahamas cost and was told to get lost because the information was ‘classified’.

But why should the cost of the PM’s trip remain a secret? In any open society the information would be freely available and people could judge for themselves whether the money was well spent.

But Swaziland isn’t an open society and those in ruling positions can do what they like. We are right to be suspicious because corruption is rife in Swaziland and it is estimated that it is costing ordinary honest Swazi people E40 million (about 6 million US dollars) each and every month.

The report of the African Media Barometer Swaziland 2007 published last week condemned the state of freedom of information in Swaziland.

Part of the report reads,

‘There is no freedom of information legislation in Swaziland. The government and public institutions cannot be forced to disclose information of public interest. The Official Secrets Act 1963 makes it entirely the government’s prerogative whether to release information or not, and there is no means of appealing against government decisions. There are no formal procedures for obtaining public information and requests often get caught up in bureaucratic red tape. Information that should be in the public domain, such as the defence budget and the budget of the King’s office, is never disclosed.

‘There is an attempt to introduce freedom of information (FOI) legislation in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Draft Bill 2007. However, there are concerns that the draft bill contains too many restrictions on accessing information and, in fact, turns the whole idea of FOI on its head by opening up ways for the government to access private information, rather than opening up the public’s access to public information.’


So that just about sums it up. Swazi people will only be told what the government wants them to know and that situation is not going to change any time soon.

See also
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FIGHT
RIGHT TO KNOW DAY

SWAZI MEDIA RIGHTS STILL RESTRICTED

Monday, 28 January 2008

SWAZILAND ‘TIMES’ TALKS SENSE ON RAPE

Is the Times of Swaziland coming to its senses on the subject of rape?

The paper that told its readers the reason why women get raped is because they wear short skirts now says rape is an ‘immoral life threatening act’. Only three weeks ago the Times said, ‘When a woman or girl dresses half-naked she is saying through her action “I am available to any man that needs me”. When you dress seductively you are exposing yourself to the danger of being raped.’

Now, the Times has changed its tune. The about-turn came on Friday (25 January 2008) in an editor’s comment after a gang of men were sentenced to a total of 103 years in jail for raping 11 girls aged six to 11 years old. Dogs and knives were used to threaten some of the girls into submission.

The editor’s comment applauded the judge in the case ‘for a befitting sentence to this immoral life threatening act. Rape in this country has become a fashion and unless the courts take a stern stand against it by imposing heavy sentences, it is bound to continue to wreck this already fragile HIV AIDS ravaged country.

‘The rapists got what they deserved but no matter how many years they spend behind bars, nothing can replace the harm and damage that has been caused to the lives of the innocent young survivors.

‘Society has a role to play in ensuring others do not experience such suffering. We owe it to the future generation to create a safe environment they can call home.’

I applaud the Times for coming out clearly against rape on this occasion. But the newspaper has a dreadful history of misinformation on the subject of rape. In the editor’s comment it says ‘society has a role to play in ensuring others do not experience such suffering’. He is right and I would go further and say that newspapers and the media generally have an important role in this regard. And none more so than the Times.

I now await a full retraction and apology from the Times on the lies it has told in the past on rape. Let us see a clear statement from the newspaper that women and children who get raped are victims and are in no way responsible for the rape.

On a related note. I saw in the Times that the rapists were said to have raped 11 girls. The Swazi Observer report said they raped 18 girls. Both newspapers can’t be right. I’m afraid this is just another example of how you can’t believe anything you read in the Swazi newspapers.

See also
‘TIMES’ PEDDLES IGNORANCE ON RAPE
MORE RAPE LIES FROM ‘TIMES’

LEAKS AT UNIVERSITY OF SWAZILAND

Somebody is having a laugh at the expense of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA).

A report in the Times Sunday yesterday (27 January 2008) reveals that the University Registrar is upset about documents leaking from the UNISWA Senate. He thinks too much unauthorised information is making its way to lawyers representing students in the ongoing dispute over the introduction of semesterization at the university.

And how do we know this? Someone (the newspaper variously calls him/her a ‘mole’ a ‘spy’ and a ‘traitor’) has leaked a letter sent by the Registrar to the university’s lawyer to the newspapers.

As they used to say about good theatre back in the UK ‘this one will run and run’.

See also
SWAZI UNI TRIES TO MISLEAD MEDIA

Friday, 25 January 2008

SWAZI MEDIA RIGHTS STILL RESTRICTED

The rights to freedom of expression and media freedom are severely restricted in Swaziland.

That was the unsurprising conclusion of an extensive examination of the Swazi media published on Wednesday (23 January 2008).

However unsurprising the conclusion, the report offers one of the most comprehensive analyses of the media in Swaziland in recent years.

The report, called African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007, reveals that the media environment in Swaziland is still characterised by self-censorship, lack of independence from government, little diversity and competition, no transparent and independent broadcasting regulation, no self-regulation and a lack of professionalism among media practitioners.

The report was produced by the media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter in conjunction with Frederich Ebert Stiftung. Eight panellists from the media and civil society in Swaziland met for two days in July 2007 to discuss the state of the media in Swaziland.

The panel’s conclusions were overwhelming negative and regular readers of this blog will be aware that I share much of the pessimism of the panellists.

There is too much in the 48-page report for me to discuss in one post, but (for a change?) I would like to share with you some of the positive developments the panellists were able to identify over the past two years in Swaziland.


Positive developments

- The adoption of the Constitution, which guarantees both freedom of expression and media freedom.

- Increased public consciousness of the right to freedom of expression and increased efforts by the media to enable people to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

- The drafting of six new media bills, designed to introduce freedom of information legislation, legislation establishing a public broadcasting corporation and an independent broadcasting regulator, amend the Books and Newspaper Act and replace the outdated Cinematography Act.

- Increased editorial freedom and independence at the state broadcasters, spearheaded by journalists willing to challenge the status quo.

- The resurrection of the media union with the launch of the Media Workers’ Union of Swaziland (MWUS).

- Increased salaries for media practitioners.


Main drivers for positive change

- Government’s change in attitude, making it more open to free media activity, has been an important catalysts for change and is evidenced, for example, by government’s efforts to reform some media laws and provide funds to train journalists.

- Media managers who are determined to bring about industry reform and development.

- MISA Swaziland has been instrumental in many different areas of media development, e.g. facilitating exchange programmes and in-house training for journalists, assisting with the launch of the Media Complaints Commission and voicing opposition to statutory regulation, critiquing the six media bills and conducting media content research.

- The Ministry of Public Service and Information (in particular the Director of Information), which is tasked with implementing the Information and Media Policy and is overseeing the drafting of new media legislation.

- Journalists who are willing to take risks by resisting self-censorship and censorship from the authorities.


Activities needed over the next few years

Despite these ‘positive’ aspects of the Swaziland media landscape, the report remains overwhelmingly negative in its findings. To try to improve the situation the African Media Barometer report suggested the following activities that could happen over the next few years.

- A skills audit should be conducted in all media houses to assess the existing capacity of media practitioners at all levels.

- Skills development opportunities for working journalists should be increased, both in-house training as well as enrolment in external part-time and full-time courses.

- On-the-job training and mentorship programmes need to be established in all media houses to ensure entry-level reporters are given sufficient direction and guidance.

- Civic education on freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom needs to be conducted by the media and civil society organisations.

- The law reform process needs to be launched to ensure all media unfriendly laws are repealed or amended to conform to the Constitution. The establishment of a law reform commission should be fast-tracked.

- A national conference on law reform should be conducted to produce an action plan and way forward on the law reform process.

- The consultation process on the six draft bills needs to continue with a new consultant and should include a broader base of stakeholders.


The AMB report is published by MISA – Swaziland and available from its office.

MISA hopes to put the report on its internet site sometime soon.

See also
SWAZI GOVERNMENT HITS ITS CRITICS
UNREALITY OF SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM
MEDIA AND GOOD GOVERNACE

Thursday, 24 January 2008

DIRE OUTPUT ON SWAZI CHANNEL S

Swaziland’s only ‘independent’ television station Channel Swazi (Channel S) has been boasting about new equipment it has installed in its studios.

Congratulations to them, but what a pity that the standards of their programmes remain so awful.

For those who haven’t been paying attention the Times Sunday newspaper reported (13 January 2008) that E6 million (just under one million US dollars) had been spent on upgrading facilities.

Channel S is a controversial television station run by an equally controversial man Qhawe Mamba.

Swaziland is not a democracy and the government on behalf of the monarchy keeps a strong control of broadcast media. However, in 2001, in an effort to mislead the outside world that Swaziland allowed freedom of expression, the government allowed Channel S, to begin operating within the kingdom.

King Mswati III supported Channel S, because he wanted to show that his regime was democratic and respected human rights, but this illusion was soon exposed when Channel S had its offices raided by police after it screened a report deemed too critical of the king. The authorities immediately reined in any hint of independence at Channel S.

The criticism of the king was an aberration, because Mamba has always been excessively loyal to the monarchy. For many years he managed to hold down two jobs. Even while he was head of Channel S he was employed full time by the Swaziland government-controlled station, Swazi TV.

During this time Mamba was a ‘praise singer’ for Swazi King Mswati III. A ‘praise singer’ is exactly what it sounds like and Mamba would travel across the world following the king on his travels and reporting back for Swazi TV on the king’s deeds and singing the praises of the king to anyone who would listen.

What Mamba and Channel S presented was hardly independent news. But we expect this from broadcasters in Swaziland so there is nothing new here.

Today Channel S can jump up and down with excitement all it likes about the new equipment, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the programmes the channel produces are extremely bad.

Most of the programming on the station isn’t even produced in Swaziland. The programme schedules are full of cheap imports (endlessly repeated), mainly from the US.

But, of course, the new equipment will be used on homegrown shows. Certainly, something needs to be done about the way Channel S produces its news. Here’s what they put out last Thursday (17 January 2008) on their English language news programme.

The programme started with the newsreader facing the camera, stumbling her way through a script of the news. I hope viewers had not been drinking too much because they would have suffered a bout of motion sickness as the camera swayed first to left and right and then up and down. A photograph illustrating the report she was reading first appeared on screen, then disappeared. Then a blank space appeared where the photograph should have been. And this was only the first minute of the programme.

The first news report didn’t appear. When it did, the picture froze and the sound came on… and then went off. The camera showed the newsreader looking like a startled dog caught in the headlights of a car.

To cover up the mistake, Channel S went to a commercial. But even that didn’t work. So it was back to the news report. Once that was over it was on to the second report. But this report covered pictures that had just been shown in the previous report.

I’ll put Channel S out of its misery here and not tell you about the rest of the 30-minute programme.

Regular viewers of Channel S news programmes (if there are any) will know that what I have described is not a one-off occurrence. The news is like this every day. Channel S should stop worrying about new equipment; it should start hiring people who know how to do their job.

Channel S operations manager Mduduzi Hleta is quoted in the Times Sunday saying that ‘almost half a million’ people in Swaziland watch the channel. This is certainly untrue. Half a million people amounts to roughly half the population of Swaziland (adults and children) and since more than two thirds of people in Swaziland live in abject poverty on less than one US dollar a day it is highly unlikely they can afford to watch television.

I leave it up to you to speculate why Channel S tells lies about its viewing figures but in truth until the quality of its programmes improves dramatically it will be lucky to keep half a dozen viewers let alone half a million.


See also
TELEVISION MISUSES CHILDREN

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

SWAZILAND ‘TOO RICH’ FOR AID

Did you know that Swaziland is too ‘rich’ to receive development aid even though about 70 percent of the kingdom’s population live on less than one US dollar a day?

Did you know that the unemployment rate in Swaziland is 40 percent, and more than four out of ten Swazis depend on some form of food assistance to stay alive?

Did you also know that about 20 percent of the Swazi population controls more than 80 percent of the kingdom’s wealth?

If you answered yes to the questions above you’ve been reading the foreign press. If you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, don’t worry you are no different from all the people in Swaziland who have to rely on Swazi journalists for their information.

I was prompted to ask the questions after reading both the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer last Thursday (17 January 2007).

They both carried reports about the European Union Commissioner to Lesotho and Swaziland Peter Beck Christiansen who signed an agreement to hand over to Swaziland up to E630 million (about 100 million US dollars). He also gave a wide-ranging speech about the development needs in Swaziland, which included some comments about how the Swazi government was using money previously donated.

I don’t think the Swazi journalists quite understood what was being said, since the headlines they put on their reports contradict one another.

The Times had this headline EU WARNS GOVT ON SPENDING
The Observer had this headline EC BOSS PLEASED WITH GOVERNMENT

The Times reported that during his speech Christiansen said, ‘Social inequalities are increasingly leaving Swaziland with one of the most skewed income distributions.

‘I think it is a particular responsibility of the country to ensure that every citizen receives a fair share of the national wealth.’

Christiansen did not elaborate on this point of view and true to form the Swazi journalists didn’t think to ask him what he meant.

I’ve written before about the capacities of Swazi journalists and how they don’t ask questions.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is cultural: people in Swaziland are not encouraged to ask questions, especially of people in authority. The second is more practical: the journalists don’t have the capacity to understand and interpret what is being said to them and therefore they only reproduce in their newspapers the words of speeches and press handouts.

That is why it took an overseas news agency, the Inter Press Service (IPS) from Johannesburg, South Africa, (17 January 2008) to fill in the gaps for us.

IPS followed up on the Christiansen presentation and was able to reveal to its readers the facts that I used at the beginning of this post.

Its report went on.

The economy is performing poorly, especially in comparison with the other nations of the region,’ said Richard Ndwandwe, an investment advisor with an Mbabane bank, told IPS.

‘We have not achieved 3.0 percent economic growth in a decade, and the central bank says an annual growth rate of 3.6 percent is required just to keep up with population growth,’ Ndwandwe said, stressing that the, ‘net result has been a deterioration in the standard of living for almost all Swazis.’

‘It is the rich minority that is skewing the statistical picture, and making the country appear better off than it is for most people,’ explained Ndwandwe.

‘Social inequalities are increasingly leaving Swaziland with one of the world's most-skewered income distributions,’ noted Peter Beck Christiansen, the European Union’s (EU) ambassador to Swaziland.

Colonial-era landholders and business people who did not have their properties compromised when Swaziland gained its independence 40 years ago, government leaders, and a small - but well-off - clique of Swazi entrepreneurs have amassed wealth that has raised the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Less than twenty percent of the population controls eighty percent of the nation's wealth, according to the World Bank. But, the World Bank - using GDP to classify the country's state of economic development - has placed Swaziland in the ‘low-middle income’ category of nations.

‘We are far from being a middle income country, but we are not considered a low income country, and this makes a world of difference when it comes to accessing development funding,’ said Ndwandwe.

‘It is not a fair rating,’ Abdoulaye Balde, the country director for the WFP, told IPS from his Mbabane office that coordinates the world’s response to Swaziland's food shortage crisis. ‘It does not take into consideration that way most people are living. We are always telling this to our donors,’ he stressed.

The director of another humanitarian relief NGO - which receives World Bank logistical assistance - said, ‘There is so much need in the world and so many peoples competing for limited resources that it is easy for an NGO to go by World Bank guidelines to decline assistance to a country like Swaziland. It’s not necessarily fair.’

Several times this past year, Prime Minister Themba Dlamini and Majozi Sithole, his finance minister, reminded the country that Swaziland does not qualify for low-interest loans or interest-free grants awarded to countries classified as ‘low income’ although a large majority of Swazis live in absolute poverty.

Denied developmental funds, the government's response has been to encourage economic growth by boosting the private sector, with the hope of increased tax revenue from businesses.

While foreign direct investment (FDI) is sought by globetrotting teams of government officials, ordinary Swazis are encouraged to become small entrepreneurs.

Christiansen signed a treaty with Swazi leadership for a 100 million US dollar aid package, Wednesday.

‘I think that it is a particular responsibility of the country to ensure that ever citizen received a fair share of the national wealth,’ Christiansen said.

However, not even the country’s small - and by law nonexistent - opposition groups who speak about countering the ruling monarchy’s grip on governance, have called for wealth redistribution.

‘The rich are not going away, and that's the only way to make Swaziland statistically a low income country,’ Anthony Simelane, an attorney based in the central commercial hub Manzini, told IPS.

‘There is not going to be wealth redistribution that would benefit the poor. The country is denied development funds to help the poor, so all government can hope to do is boost the economy and reap taxes,’ Simelane said.

The impediment to this plan is government corruption. Sithole has estimated that the amount of government money lost to various forms of corruption annually equals the country’s national debt.

Christiansen touched on corruption when he signed the EU's developmental agreement. ‘I have learned in my three years in Swaziland that no amount of funding or donor assistance can lead to development if the right conditions are not in place.

‘Deficiencies in the areas of governance have and will continue to seriously limit your development progress, with or without the HIV/AIDS threat,’ he told his Swazi hosts.

The EU's aid package is contingent upon the implementation of what Christensen called ‘an ambitious governance reform programme to enable Swaziland to reach at least the level of other Southern African countries’.

See also
SWAZI REPORTERS CAN’T EXPLAIN

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

SWAZI PRESS CHASES VIOLENT COPS


Swazi newspapers are refusing to let the police off the hook, following the heavy violence some officers engaged in last Thursday (17 January 2008) outside the University of Swaziland (UNISWA).


The Swazi Observer devoted an entire page under the headline UNISWA saga: When cops pounce on ‘innocent’ citizens yesterday (Monday 21 January 2008).

It told the story of Nkosinaye Dlamini, the Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT) student, an innocent by-stander, who was shot by police in his own home.

Witness, Nkosibone Vilakati, aged 20, told the Observer that Dlamini was passing by the gates of UNISWA on his way from SCOT to a house close to the UNISWA Kwaluseni Campus.

Vilakati told the Observer that he and Dlamini walked towards the university gates to see what was happening at UNISWA where students were protesting against examinations and semesterization at the university.

The Observer reports the pair ‘only saw students chanting and they returned into the house’.

They were followed by a group of police officers and one of them said that Dlamini had been making the life of the police difficult. Dlamini responded to them and then the police jumped over the fence of the house and Dlamini and Vilakati rushed into the house.

The Observer takes up the story.

He [Vilakati] says they rushed into the house but the officers forced themselves in, pulled Nkosinaye outside and poked him with batons. He claims that they ordered him to make a drill in the same way the UNISWA students did at the gates.

‘My sister and I came out to tell them once more that he is not from UNISWA. They seemed to understand this time around and left him. He returned to the house,’ claims Nkosibone.

As they left they fired a salvo of insults, he says, but before they left the compound, his sister asked them why they were insulting them.

‘She told them that they forced themselves in the family premises and went on to invade the privacy of the family house. They turned at once at high speed as though they had received an order. We rushed to close the door but they broke the glass door with the nozzle.

‘Nkosinaye joined us to push the door against them. At the door was my sister’s 14-month-old baby, Sibahle. They pushed so hard until I was left by myself against them. Sibahle was less than half a metre away when the shot was fired,’ says Nkosibone.

He says he thought it was a teargas canister and rushed to grab the baby outside. But lo, he threw himself at them and they went for him, he claims. He says others went inside to assault Nkosinaye. The others went for his sister Sibonelo.

‘They slapped me and pulled me with hair extensions trying to get me outside. I resisted and that made them even madder. They tried to disable me by hitting both my shoulders. I knew I was almost done and tried to plead for mercy.

‘Then they went for my buttocks instead. I collapsed and they left me. I never saw them leave. I can identify about three of them,’ says Sibonelo.

She says she then came to life after a brief passing out and entered the house to get ice to cook her face. It was then Nkosinaye told her that he was hit by a bullet.

The Observer’s account is not the first account in Swazi newspapers about police brutality at UNISWA. The Observer, the Times of Swaziland and the Times Sunday have all published accounts of police out of control.

What we have still to see in any of the Swaziland news media is a statement from the Royal Swazi Police Commissioner in response to the detailed accounts that victims of the out-of-control police have made.

It is also to be hoped that someone brings the guilty police officers to account.

See also
MORE ON SWAZI POLICE BRUTALITY
SWAZILAND POLICE ON RAMPAGE

Monday, 21 January 2008

MORE ON SWAZI POLICE BRUTALITY

Newspapers in Swaziland are continuing to pursue the Swazi police after officers went on the rampage outside the kingdom’s university and shot an innocent by-stander.

I reported yesterday (Sunday 20 January 2008) that the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer both reported how a man was shot in his own home. A 14-month-old baby was also nearly shot.

The Times Sunday yesterday (20 January 2008) reported another example of the police being out of control during a demonstration by University of Swaziland (UNISWA) students protesting about examinations and semesterization.

The Times Sunday reported on one student who was shot at by police, who told his story to a meeting of university of students. Here is the report as published in the Times Sunday.

Police slapped, kicked and spat on my face – student

One of the four students who were arrested at the riot at the University of Swaziland submitted at the meting that he was slapped, kicked and spat at by a policeman, whom he went on to reveal his force number.

He said this happened during his arrest. Emmanuel Ngubeni an LLB3 [third year law] student further told the gathering that the police tried to shoot him three times on the fateful day.

‘They swore at me and shouted that I must not dare run away because they were going to shoot me dead. I jumped over the wall fence and I could hear their noise as I was running. I jumped into a maize field and the bullet hit the maize cobs and I could hear that,’ the student said.

He went on and said that he became weary and stopped when two police officers wearing helmets and bullet proof clothing came and arrested him.

‘They came to me, kicked me and spat on my face. One of them slapped me, I looked at him, he asked why I was looking at him and slapped me again. It is at that moment that I took and crammed his force number,’ he related, much to the excitement of the students who then formed a big circle around him and danced.

Ngubeni assured his fellow students that his experience had not deterred him and would not so long as he was able to fight for his rights as a student.


See also
SWAZILAND POLICE ON RAMPAGE

SWAZI UNIVERSITY PR DISASTER


The continuing dispute between students and the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) over semesterization is turning into a public relations disaster for the university’s administration.

UNISWA has decided to suspend the examinations due to start today (Monday 21 January 2008). But the way the university announced the decision has failed to diffuse the situation and left students and the public confused.

Last Thursday police brutally attacked students at the gates of UNISWA’s Kwaluseni Campus and shot one defenceless by-stander in his own home

Following this violence from police (who were meant to protect the university community) and angry students the UNISWA Senate met on Saturday (19 January 2007) and decided to suspend the exams.

So far, so positive. It was clear to anyone who has been paying attention that the police of all people could not guarantee calm on the campus, so the move by the Senate was welcome.

What happened next was the public relations disaster.

I wrote on Friday (18 January 2008) about how UNISWA senior management communicates with its students, staff and the world at large, through paid-for advertisements / press statements. This means that the management doesn’t have to explain itself to journalists or anyone else.

True to form such an advert was sent off to the press. It appeared in the Times Sunday yesterday (20 January 2008). This is what it said in part. ‘… the examinations for undergraduate programmes scheduled to begin on Monday 21st January 2008 be deferred pending further advice from the Senate.’

When journalists approached students on Saturday who were holding a meeting at a venue away from the university (UNISWA has banned students from meeting on campus) about the contents of the statement the students were understandably confused about what it meant. The Times Sunday reported students asking for clarification ‘because they did not understand it.’

The confusion was about what happens next. If the examinations are suspended does that mean that semesterization is also cancelled? When would exams be held? This statement talked about undergraduate programmes, what would happen to the postgraduates?

Many students interviewed saw the statement as a trick to divide them, rather than as a way forward towards a solution to the dispute.

A badly written statement was the first part of the PR blunder. The second came when the UNISWA Registrar contacted by the Times Sunday for clarification ‘confirmed the suspension but declined to comment further.’ So, a genuine confusion could have been cleared up if a senior administrator of the university had wanted it to be. It remains a mystery as to why he stayed silent.

As a result tensions on the Kwaluseni campus remained high over the weekend and there were more scuffles between police and students. Today (Monday 21 January 2008) could be a very tense day at the university.

There was no need for any of this confusion. What went unreported was that at its meeting on Saturday the UNISWA Senate decided that the exams should be suspended because of the problem over safety. It resolved that all academic faculties should meet today (Monday 21 January 2008) to discuss what happens next. It was stressed that student representatives should be invited to the meeting. Time would also be given to them to consult with their fellow students and the ban on student meetings would be lifted. After faculties had met they would forward their recommendations on the way forward to the Senate for deliberation.

Why on earth didn’t UNISWA tell the students, staff, media and the world at large any of this? Students are now being consulted on the way forward. This is a major step forward in the dispute, but the chance may have been lost because UNISWA seems incapable of explaining its intensions in a clear manner.

Let’s hope all is not lost, because it is generally believed now that the only way this semesterization mess can be cleaned up is through discussion.


See also
SWAZILAND POLICE ON RAMPAGE

Sunday, 20 January 2008

SWAZILAND POLICE ON RAMPAGE

Swaziland’s newspapers report that Swazi police have been on the rampage again.

An innocent young man was shot in the ribs after he tried to avoid police who were chasing University of Swaziland (UNISWA) students who are protesting against examinations which were due to start this month.

This is not the first time Swaziland newspapers have exposed how Swazi police consider themselves to be a law to themselves. In August 2007 the Times Sunday reported that police shot dead a man in cold blood as he tried to surrender himself after being cornered by armed officers.

In the latest incident, the Times of Swaziland reports that a 14-month-old baby was also almost shot as police forced their way into a private home and opened fire indiscriminately.

The Times reported the incident in its newspaper on Friday (18 January 2008) and also on its website . Unfortunately, the Times does not have an archive on its website which means you can only read the report online on the day it is published.

So, for those who missed the report here is an extended extract.

Visitor shot in UNISWA riot
KWALUSENI – An innocent life was almost lost yesterday afternoon, after a bullet fired by police during yet another violent university riot struck a visitor on the ribs. The young man, a student of the Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT), had been visiting a friend outside the campus when the upheaval broke out, resulting in a nasty clash between police and students.

The bullet that hit the SCOT student narrowly missed a 14-month-old baby, who was next to him when the police shot.According to a friend of the injured SCOT student, they were seated on the steps at a Simelane homestead, which is about 150 metres from the university - next to the road.


‘A group of about 10 police officers, armed with batons and guns, approached us. We told them that we were not UNISWA students, but they started quarrelling with us.

‘To avoid trouble, we entered the house, but the police became violent as they pushed the door open and started insulting us,’ said the friend, who did not want to be identified. He said the police forced the injured student out of the house and provoked him with their batons, but he forced his way back inside the house. He said they pushed back the door, which was when one police officer broke the door glass and shot the SCOT student.

He said after shooting him, they continued to insult them and they then assaulted his sister with their batons. Some of the students were injured in the process.

The Swazi Observer also published its account of the shooting. You can find the full report here.

Here are some extracts from the Observer report.

UNISWA STUDENTS INJURED IN RIOT
SEVERAL University of Swaziland students at Kwaluseni Campus were injured during clashes with police yesterday afternoon.

Among those injured is a Swaziland College of Technology student attached to the Swaziland Brewers. Police, however, have denied that any shots were fired or that police assaulted any students, but said they were investigating the allegations though.


Nkosinaye Dlamini is currently battling for dear life at Manzini Clinic after he was shot with a rubber bullet below the heart. The rubber bullet is said to have been embedded in the bowels. Dlamini was inside his rented room opposite the bus terminus near the Kwaluseni campus entrance.

Thembela Simelane, his neighbour, said after giving Dlamini a thorough hiding and a 'parting shot' they went for his house where they found his wife and his brother-in-law.

He claimed that they beat up his wife after breaking the glass door with the nozzle of the gun. He alleged that they then entered the house and proceeded to assault the two.

In another incident, three students were allegedly heavily assaulted by the police while they were studying in their rented flat situated opposite Swazi National High School. The students are Chazile Magagula, Gabsile Dlamini and Ncobile Mashinini. Chazile had a serious injury in the head and other parts of the body. She and her peers were found at Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital where she was being attended to by doctors. When interviewed, she said they were inside their flat when they noticed police approaching.

‘I was so scared and I decided to close and lock the door since I feared that they might attack us. Indeed, my fears were confirmed when the police came running and demanded that I open the door. I resisted but they threatened to fire tear gas inside the house if I did not open. I eventually opened the door with the hope that they would talk to us.

‘They jumped inside and started beating us up with sjamboks and kicked us all over the body. I was injured on the head,’ said Chazile, who was soaked in blood and sporting a bandage, which covered the head round the chin. Her peers complained about stomach and body pains, which they claimed were a result of the beating.

Seven other students were reported to be injured and were treated at RFM Hospital.


See also
SWAZI UNI TRIES TO MISLEAD MEDIA
SWAZI UNI OFFERS BOGUS DEGREES
‘SUNDAY’ PROBES POLICE KILLING

POLICE ‘MURDER’ – NEW EVIDENCE

Saturday, 19 January 2008

SWAZI UNI OFFERS BOGUS DEGREES

I wrote yesterday (Friday 18 January 2008) about how the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) was using paid adverts to publicise its point of view on the dispute it presently has with its staff and students.

I was particularly concerned that journalists did not question the contents of these adverts and accused them of doing a disservice to the people of Swaziland.

Now the Ministry of Education has joined in the game. Yesterday, two separate paid-for advertisements / press statements on the dispute appeared in the Times of Swaziland. One was from the Ministry of Education and the other from UNISWA. The adverts have also appeared in newspapers today (Saturday).

Since Swazi journalists aren’t doing their jobs properly let me point out the significance of the adverts.

First the Ministry of Education, which states,


‘Maintenance of high academic standards is important for the university to continue to earn respect not only in the SADC region but also among African, Commonwealth and World Universities, and that its products are competitive in the world labour markets.’


That seems reasonable enough. Who would not want UNISWA, Swaziland’s only university, to have high academic standards and to have the respect of people all over the world? Actually, the answer to my question is UNISWA itself.

UNISWA’s senior management had its own paid-for advertisement / press statement on the same day (which also appeared in the Swazi Observer). Writing about students taking exams, it states,


‘In the event students find difficulty in answering questions based on material not covered in lectures, Senate has advised that students report such instances to their class representatives who should, in turn, inform the Examinations Officer in writing so that remedial action may be taken through appropriate University structures. The Senate took the position that no students should be disadvantaged on account of questions based on material not covered in lectures.’


That is a rather long-winded way of saying that if students sit an exam and they discover they hadn’t covered the topics featured in the exam paper questions because of the class disruptions that took place before Christmas they shouldn’t worry, because they will only be marked on the questions they do know.

Let’s look at that again. Usually a student does a course and is examined at the end of it. If the student passes we can all be confident that he or she has passed the whole course. What UNISWA is saying is that students do not have to pass the whole course, but only the bits of it that were covered in the classes that they happened to attend.

This is a huge mistake and completely undermines the academic integrity of the university. It means that any certificate, diploma or degree awarded under these circumstances is worthless.

If some time in the future you need, for example, an accountant, a nurse or (heaven help us) a journalist and they come to you with a ‘qualification’ from UNISWA, how can you be sure that that person really passed the course and wasn’t just awarded a pass for merely turning up for the exam? We should be grateful that UNISWA doesn’t teach heart surgery.

Once this ruling from UNISWA becomes common knowledge (and it was featured in last night's Channel S news programme) the university and the kingdom of Swaziland will be a laughing stock. All graduates, no matter from which year - past, present or future - will become suspects and none of them will be able to get jobs. People will remember UNISWA as the place where they give their degrees away.

How does any of this sit with the Ministry of Education’s wish for UNISWA to have high academic standards and the respect of the world?

UNISWA’s decision will heap humiliation, not respect, on Swaziland.

See also
SWAZI UNI TRIES TO MISLEAD MEDIA

Friday, 18 January 2008

SWAZI UNI TRIES TO MISLEAD MEDIA

Senior managers at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) have been attempting to manipulate the Swazi news media during the present disruption at the university.

At first their tactics seemed to succeed but now they are losing the fight for public opinion.

What UNISWA did was to issue public statements on the dispute and rather than subject themselves to questioning by journalists they issued these statements as paid advertisements. What this meant was they could say anything they wanted without having to explain themselves to the public.

An added dimension to this was that the university has been using these press statements as the main way of communicating with its own students and staff.

For readers outside of Swaziland who do not know the background to this dispute, let me sum up its history briefly.

In August 2007, UNISWA changed the way it organised its academic year and introduced a system called semesterization which meant that students who previously only took examinations in May each year would now have to take exams in December and May.

Students believing that they had not been consulted properly on the changes (and also believing that they would be at a disadvantage under the new system) protested.

UNISWA senior management would not consult with students and a series of class boycotts took place. Then on the night of 9 December 2007, the night before exams were due to start, some students caused extensive damages at the university’s Kwaluseni campus. The examinations were cancelled because the university senior management felt that the safety of students and staff could not be guaranteed.

Examinations were rescheduled to start on 21 January 2008 and students said they would not write them. UNISWA continues to refuse to consult with students and has banned students from meeting (which almost certainly violates their rights under the new Swazi Constitution).

Since early January armed police, often dressed in full riot gear, patrol the Kwaluseni campus. Razor wire surrounds the examinations venues.

In January 2008, the UNISWA academic staff association ALAP fearing for their members’ safety if the exams went ahead discussed a possible boycott of the examination invigilation. Lecturers discovered, through one of UNISWA’s press releases / advertisements, that if they didn’t invigilate ALAP would be taken to court and staff members would face dismissal.

That brings us up to date, so let’s get back to the main plot.

The UNISWA management’s attempts to avoid discussing the situation have worked to an extent because they were the only side putting out information. But it didn’t take long for the students to catch up and overtake the university in the public relations stakes.

Student leaders have been appearing on radio and television and writing in the newspapers outlining their point of view.

Compared to UNISWA, they come across as the voice of reason. All along they have said they are not against the semesterization system, but they object to the way it has been introduced. They also say that they want talks with UNISWA management, but it is the university that won’t meet with them.

A typical example of the students’ views appeared in the Times Sunday, 13 January 2008 in which student leader Nqoba Mabusa sets out six major concerns the students have.

By being heavy handed in the way it issues information on the dispute the UNISWA management has alienated first its own students and then its own staff. That looks like two own goals that could have been avoided.

UNISWA has also managed to alienate public opinion generally in the kingdom as trade unions and civil society organizations added their support to the students.

The problem at UNISWA now extends beyond the university’s campus into the Ministry of Education and also the Swaziland government’s Cabinet. The Minister of Education was quoted in both Swaziland’s dailies on Thursday (17 January 2008) calling on the students to write the exams.

Even though it was probably making a good deal of money from the UNISWA adverts, the Times of Swaziland called for the dispute to end and for the January exams to be cancelled while the Minister of Education intervenes in the dispute.

In an editorial comment the Times (14 January 2008) wrote, ‘[... ] students could now be spectators of a clash between security forces and lecturers being frog-marched into the examination rooms with guns pointed to their heads.’

The comment goes on to say that UNISWA is ‘an institution that should boast of the most highly qualified academia expected to educate others in good leadership, management and problem solving. What are we going to learn from this; that guns will now rule at the institution?’

Although the Times editorial shows a commendable spirit of independence, the news media in Swaziland have to a large extent let the public down on this issue. They have been quick to print reports about student violence on campus and they have published the paid-for adverts. But what is ethically unacceptable is that they have extracted sections from the advertisements and published them in the news sections as if they were independently written reports from the newspapers’ journalists.

Also, journalists have not been very good at giving the background to the dispute. It is constantly stated that the issue is about ‘semesterization’ but the first time I saw an attempt by any news media at giving a clear definition of semesterization came in the Swazi Observer today (Friday 18 January 2008) and that was written not by a journalist but by a law lecturer at the university. It also came about four months into the dispute.

The article although welcome was incomplete as the writer failed to recognise that semesterization has failed in many universities across the world and as a result those universities decided to ditch semesterization and revert to their previous status.

It was nonetheless a brave attempt by the Observer. Now would someone tell us why UNISWA considered it necessary to introduce semesterization into Swaziland? Since the introduction of semesterization is at the centre of the dispute this is a very serious omission.

The news media have also mostly failed to call to account those in power. Even the Times in its editorial could only come up with the suggestion that the Minister of Education should intervene or if this was beyond his abilities then King Mswati III should ‘come to the rescue of both students and lecturers who are now learning and teaching under a state of emergency’

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that journalists are failing in their duty to their readers. There are three possible reasons for this present failure. The first is that journalists don’t themselves understand what ‘semesterization’ is all about and they don’t have the research skills to go find out.

The second reason is that they don’t possess the analytical skills to, for example, look at the paid-for advertisements and realise that their contents raise issues that need to be debated. I don’t recall any journalists questioning UNISWA senior management’s decision to ban student meetings at the campus, even though this looks like a clear violation of the students’ constitutional rights.

The third reason is a deeply set cultural one. Swazis do not question people who are in power. To journalists the Vice Chancellor is a big cheese and his word carries at least the same weight, if not more, than any chief in Swaziland. The Chancellor of UNISWA is the king and the chairman of the UNISWA governing council is the king’s half-brother and we all know what happens to newspapers that dare criticise the king.


See also
SELF-CRITICAL SWAZI JOURNALISTS

Thursday, 17 January 2008

SWAZILAND FILM 'WAH-WAH' ON DSTV

I wrote in November 2007 about how the film about Swaziland called Wah-Wah had been put up on the Internet for anyone to see.

I know with the poor Internet connections we have in Swaziland this is not a very easy way to watch a movie.

So, the richer readers of this blog might be pleased to know that the movie is being shown by satellite broadcaster M-Net on DSTV from this week.

Wah-Wah was made in 2005, and is a fictionalised account of the last days of British rule in Swaziland, came out. The film, directed by Richard E Grant, is the story of his childhood in Swaziland in the1960s.

Personally, I think the film ignores the exploitation of Swazi people by the British and instead concentrates on a not very interesting story about a young British boy and his family.

The film was shot in Swaziland and there are some good views of the kingdom. The scenes of the day Swaziland received its independence are worth watching.

Because I’m a fair kind of person, I searched the Internet to find a really positive review of Wah-Wah to share with you.

I didn’t quite succeed. But I did find this on a website called Urban Cinefile from Australia

This is a platinum plated cast: Gabriel Byrne is at his best as the decent but troubled, heartbroken alcoholic, while Miranda Richardson cuts loose as his self serving wife. Emily Watson delivers a remarkable characterisation of Ruby, an American who is like a cat amongst the pigeons of England. Julie Walters and Celia Imre (she often plays Queen Elizabeth II look-alikes) are splendid as very different dames of the colony, and Julian Wadham grates just right as Charles, the stuck up oaf. But none of these are caricatures, which saves the film from a fate worse than death: boredom.

I admire how Grant's writing and direction take Africa for granted (pardon the pun) in the sense that we are spared longing long shots of landscapes and similar signs of awestruck filmmaking. He's telling a story about lives shattered, rebuilt and otherwise traversed, in a passage of time that impacts most heavily on the storyteller: puberty. Ralph's rescue is partly engineered by an early romance which is neatly and tastefully built in, while the resolution is bitter sweet - enough to make it real, yet uplifting. It's is the real thing, no wah-wah about it.


The first showing by M-Net of Wah-Wah was this week. Anyone who watches DSTV will know that the movies get repeated over and over again. So, it’s a bit like the buses to Manzini, if you missed one don’t worry there’ll be another along in a while.

See also
‘WAH-WAH’ ON THE INTERNET

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

UNREALITY OF SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM

There is an air of unreality about media freedom in Swaziland at the moment.

On the one hand a new Swazi Constitution enacted in 2006 enshrines freedom of expression and freedom of the press, while on the other hand independent news media continue to be hounded by the kingdom’s authorities whenever they publish material the ruling elites do not like.

The most striking example of this harassment happened in March 2007 when the Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers was forced into publishing an abject apology to Swaziland’s King Mwasti III after the Times Sunday ran a news commentary sourced from the international news agency Afrol News in which the following appeared. ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family. The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’

Such open criticism of the king is not allowed in Swaziland (not even in so-called independent newspapers like the Times Sunday). The publisher was summoned to the Royal Palace and told to issue a public apology or his newspapers would be closed down. The apology was swiftly forthcoming.

This is not an isolated incident of censorship by the king. In February 2007, the king’s chief executive officer Bheki Dlamini barred journalists at a press conference from asking the king questions relating to the recently-formed Swaziland Police Union, whose formation had shaken the Swazi establishment.

In the recent past the king also banned newspapers from writing about his wives without his permission, even while covering official events. This happened after the Times Sunday interviewed one of his wives (with her consent) while she was sick in hospital.

The power of the king is so great in Swaziland that news media in the kingdom enforce self-censorship when opportunities to report critically about him occur. In August 2007, the world’s media reported a survey from Forbes in New York that placed King Mswati III among one of the top 15 richest monarchs in the world.

He was revealed as the richest monarch in sub-Saharan Africa and the youngest (at age 39) among the monarchs in the top 15. The king’s wealth was estimated at 200 million US dollars (approx. 1,4 billion Rand). Foreign news reports noted that more than 70 percent of Swazis lived on less than 1 US dollar a day and that more than half the population relied on food aid donated by international agencies to survive. The Swazi media mentioned none of this.

Broadcasting

The air of unreality about media freedom extends further than the newspapers. In June 2007 MISA Swaziland organized a workshop to advocate for the kingdom’s state controlled television and radio stations to adopt a system of public service broadcasting (PSB) which would provide greater access to the airwaves to a wide range of people to share information and ideas.

At present broadcasting in Swaziland is strictly controlled and only news and information that supports the monarchy and government can be aired.

The workshop was told by the Ministry of Information and Public Service that the kingdom’s radio stations were close to implementing a PSB model. Participants heard that the stations’ collective mission statement committed them to be fully under PSB by the year 2000. Workshop participants were too polite to point out that this deadline had already been missed by seven years and that the commitment to PSB by the radio stations was so weak that management had not even bothered to update their mission statement.

The truth is that the ruling elites have nothing to gain by giving up their control of the airwaves and will therefore not do so willingly. Instead, they placate media freedom advocates with fine words and promises of good intentions.

Legislation

The Swazi government is keen to give the impression that it is committed to reforming the 30-plus restrictive media laws in the kingdom, but media stakeholders doubt its sincerity.

In 2007 the government introduced seven parliamentary bills, including the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, Swaziland Media Commission Bill, Swaziland Public Broadcasting Corporation Bill, Swaziland Broadcasting Bill and the Books and Newspapers Bill.

What all these bills have in common is that they purport to place the interests of the media at their centres and they have not originated from within Swaziland. A Commonwealth Secretariat consultant was engaged to draft the bills, relying for inspiration on bills that presently exist in democratic countries. The fact that Swaziland is not a democracy was apparently overlooked.

In Swaziland, customary law, which has equal status with the Roman Dutch Common Law and statutes, continues to restrict freedom of the media and freedom of expression. For instance, there are cultural dictates that prevent people from criticising or questioning those in authority. Although, in theory, the Constitution is supreme over all other laws, unwritten customary law wields enormous power in practice and because Swazi Law and Custom is not codified, it cannot be tested against the Constitution.

Members of a workshop held for media stakeholders to discuss the bills before they were piloted in Parliament saw the unreality of the approach taken by the consultant and concluded that their own input was irrelevant because ‘traditional authorities’ in the kingdom had not been consulted on the bills’ contents. Since nothing happened in Swaziland without the consent of these ‘traditional authorities’ the bills as presently written had no value, they said.

Harassment

The introduction of the new bills may be a smokescreen to obscure the fact that there are no real changes in media freedom on offer.

This was evident when the Swazi House of Assembly set up a select committee to investigate Mbongeni Mbingo, the editor of the Times Sunday, following a comment piece he wrote in his newspaper criticising the House Speaker for not allowing a debate to take place on possible amendments to the kingdom’s constitution. The House of Assembly said the editor was in contempt of Parliament.

In October 2007, the select committee cleared the editor, citing his rights under the constitution to freedom of expression. But at the same time the committee showed it had no real commitment to freedom of expression when it recommended two measures that would further restrict press freedom in Swaziland.

The first measure was a recommendation that all journalists who cover Parliament should be accredited; effectively meaning that the government would choose which journalists should be allowed to cover and which should not.

It also means the government can decide to withdraw accreditation from anyone whose reporting upsets it. It could also mean that journalists who cover Parliament would be intimidated against reporting critical stories for fear of losing accreditation and maybe their jobs as a result.

The second measure was a recommendation from the select committee for the hated Media Council Bill to be reintroduced by Parliament. The Media Council Bill is designed to force statutory regulation on the media. This move ignores work that the media houses themselves have made to form a Media Complaints Commission (MCC) to monitor standards.

The Swaziland National Association of Journalists, with the support of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland, launched the MCC in March but it was not until November 2007 that media owners agreed to fund the commission’s operations and also fund setting up the MCC as a Trust.

The attack on the Times Sunday editor should not be seen in isolation. Earlier in the year the Swazi parliament had turned up the heat on dissenting journalists by increasing fines on journalists and media houses who publish articles deemed to be critical of or offending against Parliament or MPs.

MISA Swaziland called these measures blatant discrimination 'likely to scare the already docile Swazi press which cannot freely report on issues due to a litany of restrictions, laws and constant intimidation from authorities.'

The Swazi government also attacked the free press generally. In June 2007, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Njabulo Mabuza, banned health workers from talking to the media in response to a number of stories that had been published highlighting the impact in the kingdom of a critical drug shortage.

Workers were forbidden to have any type of communication, including interviews and casual or ‘indiscreet’ conversations, whether at clubs, hotels, bars or private parties with journalists. Journalists were also barred from Mbabane Government Hospital, the kingdom’s key medical facility, whose problems had been highlighted in the newspapers.

On June 23, the Times of Swaziland experienced the effects of the minister’s censorship order when its photographer, Albert Masango, was denied access to the hospital. Hospital security harassed and pulled Masango out of the premises and carried him out to the gate.

Death Threats

One of the more bizarre examples of media harassment in 2007 involved a controversial TV repairman turned church pastor called Justice Dlamini who threatened two journalists with death through divine intervention.

Dlamini (who incidentally writes a regular column in the Weekend Observer newspaper and makes many appearances on Swazi television and radio) shocked a church gathering, which also included cabinet ministers, when he declared from the pulpit that he was praying for the death of two journalists, Times of Swaziland Managing Editor Martin Dlamini and reporter Nhlanhla Mathunjwa, whom he claimed wrote badly about him.

This followed a story published by the Times of Swaziland in March 2007 in which the pastor was said to have been involved a squabble over a church vehicle with one of his subordinate pastors.

The death threat caused much concern among the media fraternity in Swaziland, but both men remain alive. Of interest to media observers is not that the pastor made the threat, but that the media had so little confidence in themselves that they took the pastor seriously.

See also
A STORY THE SWAZI MEDIA MISSED
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES
LONG HISTORY OF SWAZI CENSORSHIP

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

BID TO IMPROVE SWAZI JOURNALISM

The University of Swaziland, Swaziland’s only university, is at the centre of an attempt to improve the standards of journalism and media in the kingdom.

After nine years delivering a diploma programme in Journalism and Mass Communication the university is updating its curriculum in an attempt to replace the diploma with a four-year BA degree programme.

Practitioners within Swaziland’s media industry are low skilled and its own senior journalists consider the media to be partisan, inaccurate and generally unprofessional.

In an article I have written for the academic journal Ecquid Novi (African Journalism Studies) I look at the context within which journalism education must take place in Swaziland. This highlights the small size of the media industry and the control the state exercises over it. Central here is the understanding of the role the king plays in the life of the kingdom (Swaziland has the last autocratic monarch in sub-Saharan Africa). There are more than 30 pieces of legislation that restrict the operations of the media.

It is within the context of a small, undemocratic, poorly capacitated industry, that the Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) Department at the university has devised a new degree curriculum.

The new degree programme involves a shift in emphasis from the previous diploma, significantly to include the role of media in society and how they can contribute to the changing of that society.

A journalism curriculum that operates in a kingdom that is not yet a democracy must advocate that journalism is a practice that is necessary to foster democracy. Today, there is a worldwide consensus that people have the right to influence their governments and what they do and that the media reinforce or foster this kind of democracy.

Communities within Swaziland would be placed at the centre of the new journalism curriculum. This would be especially so within the practical classes, which would include for the first time at the university, a newspaper produced in the classroom by students.

The JMC Department would like to create a community radio station to serve both as a training facility and also as a place for local people (the university community and those outside) to broadcast programmes that they see as relevant to their own needs. This is unlikely to happen as the government of Swaziland has consistently refused to grant licences for community broadcasters and there is no indication that it is willing to release its powerful grip on the airways anytime soon.

If the curriculum is to encourage change it needs to concentrate more on rural journalism. Most of the important stories taking place are outside of the urban areas and are missed by Swazi journalists because they have a narrow definition of interest. Journalism should reflect the concerns and activities of the society it serves and mirror society as a whole and not just that part of the society that has gained political office or come to the attention of the police.

About 77 per cent of the people of Swaziland live in rural areas where the trends and events that will have a major impact on cities later are likely to be found. This is most obviously the case with in Swaziland with the spread of HIV. The concentration on communities could act as a powerful force or empowerment, especially if the treatment of information is information led and not source driven, thereby taking as a starting point where the audience is and not what the source or the practitioner knows.

Within the journalism degree programme specific courses have been designed in journalism and advocacy, community broadcasting, journalism in the community, community relations and development communications.

Those who are keen to know more about the new curriculum can download the full article here. The journal also looks at journalism education in other parts of Africa.


See also
SELF-CRITICAL SWAZI JOURNALIST

Monday, 14 January 2008

SWAZI MEDIA FACE HARASSMENT

If we were to take a snapshot of the media in Swaziland at the moment we would see that the majority of them are state controlled and that small part of the industry that is in private hands has been harassed by the monarchy and the government.

The media industry in Swaziland is small and the majority of it is state controlled. As far as the newspaper industry is concerned, there are two principal players. The first is the Loffler family based in Namibia which owns African Echo, the holding company of the daily Times of Swaziland, Swazi News (published Saturday) and the Times Sunday. These newspapers, the first of which, the Times, was established in 1897, are the only major news sources in the kingdom free of government control.

The second major player is the corporation Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which is controlled by the Swazi royal family and owns the Observer Media Group, which publishes the Swazi Observer and its companion paper, the Weekend Observer. One independent monthly comment magazine, The Nation magazine, manages to continue publishing despite government opposition and a small circulation. A free government produced newssheet, Swaziland Today has very little credibility.

Newspaper circulations are generally poor. Estimates suggest that the Swazi Observer sells between 5 000 and 15 000 copies a day and the Times of Swaziland sells about 35 000 copies a day. The Times Sunday and Swazi News sell about 15 000 copies a week. The Weekly Observer has a circulation of 10 000. All newspapers are published in the English language. These newspapers serve a population of about one million people.

Newspapers lag a long way behind radio and television as the most important source of news for Swazis. A gender and media audience study found 16 percent of women and 19 percent of men cited newspapers as the most important source of news compared to 53 percent of women (63 percent men) who cited radio and 31 per cent women (17 percent men) who cited television.

The survey found that respondents with tertiary level education constituted the highest proportion of those who chose newspapers as their main source of news.

There are two free-to-air television stations in Swaziland, the Swaziland Television Authority (STA) and Channel Swazi. The STA is the state broadcaster and still dominates airwaves. Two acts of parliament have resulted in a monopoly by state owned radio and television. Broadcast licensing is the prerogative of Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications which has the sole authority to issue licenses.

The STA has one channel with multiple national repeaters. The government in 2001 allowed Channel Swazi, a pro-establishment medium, to begin operating domestically.

The South Africa-based satellite broadcaster, MultiChoice, also operates in Swaziland providing subscribers with access to television services including Cable News Network (CNN), BBC, AlJazeera and Sky News.

There are two radio broadcasters in Swaziland: the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS) and Voice of the Church, a private Christian radio station which is a local franchise of TransWorld Radio. Voice of the Church is the only privately-owned radio station in Swaziland. The Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services is a state-run national radio service. It has one siSwati language channel, one English-language channel, and one information services channel.

There are three relatively new entrants into the Swazi media market: the magazines Youth Connexion and Siyavena and the television station, Channel Swazi, but none are particularly critical of the state. The youth magazine aims mainly at addressing social issues affecting the youth such as HIV AIDS and crime. Channel Swazi is also a pro-establishment medium that offers very little in terms of progressive and dynamic points of view. Siyavena is a sports publication without much critical content. Apart from adding its name to the media landscape, it has no new voice on behalf of media freedom in the kingdom.

The media are not independent of government. There are estimated to be more than thirty pieces of legislation which could be regarded as restrictive to press freedom in Swaziland. Generally, in the state and private sector, the government has kept a tight reign on media censorship in recent years.

A Commonwealth election monitoring team criticized Swaziland’s lack of press freedom and expressed disappointment at government-owned Radio Swaziland’s reporting on the 2003 elections, saying that restricted campaign coverage reduced voters’ knowledge of the candidates and harmed their ability to hold candidates accountable.

Last year the Times group of newspapers was threatened with closure after the Times Sunday ran a report sourced from an overseas’ news agency that blamed King Mswati III for many of Swaziland’s economic woes. The newspaper group was forced to run an abject apology or face closure.

The power of the king is so great in Swaziland that news media in the kingdom enforce self-censorship when opportunities to report critically about him occur. In August 2007, the world’s media reported a survey from Forbes in New York that placed King Mswati III among one of the top 15 richest monarchs in the world. He was revealed as the richest monarch in sub-Saharan Africa and the youngest (at age 39) among the monarchs in the top 15.

The king’s wealth was estimated at 200 million US dollars (approx. 1,4 billion Rand). Foreign news reports noted that more than 70 percent of Swazis lived on less than 1 US dollar a day and that more than half the population relied on food aid donated by international agencies to survive. The Swazi media mentioned none of this.

It is difficult to be optimistic about media freedom in Swaziland. As we make our way in 2008 the government is threatening to force news media into a system of regulation that they do not want and a government sub committee wants to choose which journalists can and cannot on the Swazi Parliament.

See also
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES
SWAZI MEDIA TOE THE LINE