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Monday, 30 June 2008

MORE RACISM IN THE SWAZI PRESS

Swazi journalism plumbed new depths of racism on Saturday (28 June 2008), when the Weekend Observer allowed one of its regular columnists to attack Asians who live in Swaziland.

Fanyana Mabuza, in theThe Detribalised column, said Swaziland was being ‘overwhelmed by hoards of fellows, some of scary extraction that you tend to wonder whether they do not “feed” on human flesh’.

Mabuza went on, ‘Some resemble scarecrows,’ and added, ‘You would swear they’re siblings to the Star Wars’ Darth Vader or the Swamp Thing.’

After dehumanising immigrants in this way Mabuza warned readers that Swazi lawmakers had to ‘move real fast on this Eastern invasion, before they dilute our progeny and ultimately our identity and what else we have’.

There was much more of this, but I won’t repeat it here.

It really is a disgrace that such small-minded people as Mabuza are allowed space in the newspapers to demonstrate their hatred. The Weekend Observer should be ashamed to publish such an article as if the racist views expressed within it are those that a reasonable society should consider as valid. The reference by Mabuza to Asians being like human flesh eaters is particularly rancid. How could any newspaper editor mistake such a comment for a reasoned argument?

Does the Weekend Observer realise how much Mabuza lacks judgement? Just imagine if you were to delete the word ‘Asians’ from his article and replace it with ‘Swazis’ and then you were to publish the article in a country in which the majority of people were white skinned and a tiny minority were Swazis.

Would the article be a fair reflection of Swazis? Of course it wouldn’t. So why does the Weekend Observer think it is proper to misrepresent Asians in Swaziland in such a hateful way.

Majaha Dlamini, another columnist in the same newspaper, had an interesting insight into the attacks on Asians that are taking place in Swaziland at present. He wrote that ‘some very opportunist elements are bent on using these tensions to further their political ambitions’.

He went on to write about the lies that are being told about Asians in Swaziland, for example that they are stealing land from Swazis. As he correctly points out, the ‘nation’ (i.e King Mswati III) owns the land in Swaziland.

Dlamini doesn’t mention his fellow columnist by name, but he has a stark warning to those who try to cause racial unrest in Swaziland.

‘A simple incident could be enough to arouse widespread violence of Asians in the future and this is something that has to be stopped today.’


Personally, I think the Swazi media have an important role to play in ensuring that this backlash against immigrants doesn’t happen.

The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) in its own code of conduct says journalists must not ‘originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation’.

The Weekend Observer has clearly failed in this matter.

I wrote last week that xenophobia is rife in the Swazi newspapers and gave recent of examples of this. Even since that post racist reporting has continued in the newspapers. On Monday (23 June 2008) the Swazi Observer reported acting Mbabane mayor Walter Bennett telling a public gathering in Dvokolwoko that they were ‘lucky not to have Indians and Chinese in their midst’.

The media must now seriously consider the way they report about non-Swazis within the kingdom. The media have the choice either to help fan the flames of hatred that could lead to a repeat of South Africa’s xenophobic bloodbath, or they can help educate people to understand the value of difference.

See also
XENOPHOBIA IN THE SWAZI PRESS

Sunday, 29 June 2008

THE CASE FOR COMMUNITY MEDIA

Last month (May 2008) in response to the suggestions from some journalists in Swaziland that there was room for more newspapers and broadcasting outlets in the kingdom, I advocated community radio as one way forward.

I said that throughout the developing world small scale radio stations were giving people the opportunity to air their own concerns and hear their own voices broadcast.

Such radio stations are essentially democratic organisations that are owned and run by the same people who are the listeners.

A few people in Swaziland who had never heard of the concept of democratically-run radio before have asked me to say a bit more on the subject.

One great supporter of the concept is UNESCO. As part of this year’s World Press Freedom Day activities, UNESCO published a very good overview of community media, which I am reproducing here. You can find the original report here.


The role of community media

Even though many media outlets have made provisions for audience participation and have therein become more accessible to the people they serve, nowhere is accessibility and specificity of purpose so well defined as with community media. Currently radio is the most widespread form of community media in the developing world because it is cheap to produce and to access, can cover large areas, and overcomes illiteracy.

Community Media, Media with a mission Community radio defines itself more by its mission than its size or location. It usually evokes a grassroots attitude and a bias toward the free flow of opinions and ideas. It seeks to educate and entertain, to inform and amuse, and to create a big tent under which its listeners can engage and challenge each other as well as their political leadership.

These operations tend to be smaller, community based and managed, with a reliance on local support that may include advertising but more often is reflected in donations and volunteerism. Community media will often fill the void left by larger corporate media entities that operate under different imperatives that may not include the underrepresented or marginalized populations in a society. While not always the case, women and young people will find a home for their issues and encouragement of their participation within the community media framework.

The inclusion of women remains a challenging development issue because they are habitually excluded from the decision-making processes within their own societies, whilst being the first point of contact on many health and educational issues. Similarly, more attention should be given to the inclusion of youth within the media and to developing their media literacy skills.
Over the long-term, local media can create a coherent narrative of a region’s development and help people formulate goals and plans for how to improve their situation. The media can help contextualize national development programs within community frameworks and bring these goals closer to their intended beneficiaries.

Effective local media can also help people understand the history and evolution of oppression or discrimination and give them the necessary perspective to make rational choices to emerge from it. With this information, people have the means to participate in democratic processes and shape their own futures locally and nationally. Making every citizen a ‘reporter’ Professional journalists are the core of a reputable media environment. However, they are by no means the only ones actively chronicling the world around them. New technology is giving an unprecedented opportunity to citizens to inform others.

In crises, citizens reporting like journalists may be the only way for human rights abuses and other violations of a criminal or environmental nature to be brought to face broad public scrutiny. Citizen reporting may also be a way to work against censorship, following protests or political turmoil. If information becomes decentralized, censorship becomes less effective because it is no longer containable within the media outlets.

The practicalities of participation New technologies are not only changing the media dynamic when it comes to content, but are also a significant factor in creating new ways for media to interact with its audience.

Blogs, mobile phones and various other online devices are bringing the producers of content in closer contact with the consumers of it.

Feedback can be instantaneous. For the first time in the history of the media industry, especially in the most well developed media markets, there is as much information coming in from consumers as is going out to them through traditional and new means of communication. Managing these ebbs and flows of information is becoming increasingly critical to the future of the media business.

The bonds are being strengthened between these entities and with this deeper connection come heightened expectations that the users will be listened to. Encouraging participation is therefore key to the survival of media outlets in a competitive market place, while also providing an opportunity to engage with audiences. From an audience perspective, it means that it can influence the content in a very proactive way and it enables individuals to access a ready made platform through which they can share their opinions.

See also
SWAZILAND NEEDS MORE MEDIA OUTLETS

IS SWAZILAND’S ELECTION CREDIBLE?

Reproduced above is a letter sent by the Commonwealth Expert Team that observed the last elections in Swaziland in 2003.

The letter (to the Commonwealth General Secretary) states in part,

‘we do not regard the credibility of these National elections as an issue: no elections can be credible when they are for a Parliament which does not have power and when political parties are banned’.

I got the letter out of the archives because this week we see the end of voter registration for the forthcoming national election in Swaziland. The Swazi Parliament has been disbanded and (we assume) a date for polling day will be announced soon.

In the past few weeks every newspaper in Swaziland has made its position clear on the elections. All papers have written editorial comments (stating the position of the newspaper) urging that Swazis should go out and vote. They all oppose the small group of ‘progressives’ in the kingdom that is urging a boycott of the elections.

The boycotters say (more or less) that the forthcoming poll has no value because people are being asked to vote for a parliament that has no powers and there is no democracy in Swaziland because political parties are banned.

So here is my question to the newspaper editorial writers: what do they believe has changed in Swaziland since the Commonwealth Expert Team wrote its letter in 2004?

Why do you believe that the 2008 election is credible?

Still on the elections, there was a powerful image on state-controlled Swazi TV news on Friday (27 June 2008). King Mswati III had summoned parliamentarians to one of his many palaces to mark the dissolution of parliament.

The prime minister, his cabinet ministers and MPs, were on their rear ends or knees in front of the king, while he sat on an ornate chair.

Then one by one, the parliamentarians were allowed three minutes to express their gratitude to the king.

Could you imagine British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his cabinet ministers doing something similar with Queen Elizabeth II?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

SWAZI-ZIMBABWE SUMMIT UPDATE

I wrote too soon yesterday (27 June 2008) when I said that the international media had missed the irony of Swaziland lecturing Zimbabwe about ‘free and fair’ elations.

Readers have pointed out at least two articles that make the case against Swaziland. (Thank you for pointing these out. I’m glad someone’s paying attention).

One of the articles was from ABC Television in the United States.

It states, ‘Leaders of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose Security Troika, consisting of the presidents from Angola, Swaziland and Tanzania, met for an emergency session on Zimbabwe this week in Swaziland. But many of the elected leaders who make up the AU and SADC did not earn their powerful roles in free or fair elections themselves.’

It added, ‘Swaziland itself, where the meeting on the crisis in Zimbabwe is taking place, doesn’t have any presidential elections at all. It is a monarchy where the Presidency belongs to the king, passed down hereditarily, and who also appoints the Prime Minister and runs the army.’

It went on, ‘It is rare for African leaders to criticize one another at all. Partly because of the legacy of colonial rule, but also because criticizing other leaders leaves their own leadership vulnerable to scrutiny.’


Closer to home, Terry Bell, writing in Business Report from South Africa, said this about Swaziland,

‘A voting system does exist. All voting for nominated individuals is public. It is monitored by chiefs and headmen who have the power of patronage and are appointed by the king. Mswati appoints the government, controls the judiciary and exercises veto rights over all laws passed.

‘As Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) spokesperson Patrick Craven notes: “It is bitterly ironic that a conference to discuss democratic elections in Zimbabwe should be hosted by an autocratic monarch who stages elections that are no more free and fair than those staged by [Zimbabwe President Robert] Mugabe.”

‘Unions and other pro-democracy forces in the mountain kingdom now hope the Zimbabwe issue will focus attention on democratic rights throughout the region.

‘That Swaziland is a member in good standing of a regional body professing to promote freedom of association and parliamentary democracy is seen as hypocrisy within the labour movement. It is one of the reasons that Cosatu has staged protest blockades of the Swazi border in the past.’

The international media rarely report on Swaziland so many supporters of the status quo in the undemocratic kingdom thought that having King Mswati III as chair of the SADC summit would show him to the world as a statesman and leader. The Times of Swaziland on Thursday (26 June 2008) reported that the king was ‘showered with compliments’ and ‘rave reviews’ and ‘accolades’ for the part he played in the summit.

However, once the limelight was turned on Swaziland it took no time at all to see the warts under the makeup.

The spotlight has now moved away from Swaziland onto Zimbabwe itself where the fraudulent election of ‘President’ Mugabe took place yesterday.

Let’s hope that the international media return to Swaziland when the kingdom’s own election takes place later this year to show to the world what a sham they are.

Who knows, by Christmas we might even have another SADC summit, this time chaired by Mugabe, which declares Swaziland’s poll to be ‘free and fair’.

See also
SWAZILAND AND ZIMBABWE SUMMIT

Friday, 27 June 2008

SWAZILAND AND ZIMBABWE SUMMIT

It was rather strange to see Swaziland’s capital city Mbabane at the centre of international media attention on Wednesday.

Journalists from print and broadcast media were out in force, and the BBC reported live from Mbabane throughout the day (25 June 2008).

They weren’t interested in Swaziland, of course. The international media rarely are. They were in town to cover the so-called SADC Organ Troika Summit. It sounds like some kind of musical event, but actually it was an international meeting of Southern African Development Community (SADC) members to discuss the worsening elections crisis in Zimbabwe.

Swaziland’s King Mswati III is deputy chair of the ‘Organ’ and it was in this capacity that that he hosted the summit.

Not surprisingly, the Swaziland media went to town on the summit, emphasising the role the king had in the one-day event. The Swazi Observer on Thursday (26 June 2008) ran a special eight-page supplement on it.

The Times of Swaziland on the same day reported that the king was ‘showered with compliments’ and ‘rave reviews’ and ‘accolades’ for the part he played in the summit.

The same newspaper ran a more sober editorial comment in which the newspaper called the summit a ‘big let-down’. It said African leaders ‘turned their backs on the Zimbabwean people and the African continent’. This was because the summit ‘could only cough out a “suggestion” for a postponement of the elections.’

The comment went on,

‘The fear or soft spot for Mugabe has emerged even stronger with the Troika blasting Tsvangirai for pulling out of the presidential run-off election while Mugabe is let off the hook.

‘It is as if this was not the same election they want postponed in light of the violence and the charged political atmosphere “which appears not to be permissive for holding the run-off election in a manner that would be deemed free and fair,” according to Dr Salomao, the SADC Executive Secretary.’

The irony of King Mswati III, the last autocratic monarch in sub-Saharan Africa and the ruler of non-democratic Swaziland, chairing a meeting to demand ‘free and fair elections’ in Zimbabwe was lost on the media, both in the kingdom itself and internationally.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisation (SCCCO) came in for much criticism from progressives in Swaziland after it issued a media statement welcoming ‘the timely intervention of His Majesty King Mswati III’ in hosting the summit.

The statement went on to urge the summit to consider S30 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union which states, ‘Governments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union.’

SCCCO meant Zimbabwe here, but who can truly say that Swaziland’s government was elected by ‘constitutional means’?

Members of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN) Internet forum ripped into SCCCO’s statement.

Showing more honesty than the Swazi media, members pointed out the obvious anomaly of having Swaziland’s king pronouncing on democracy in another country, when Swaziland is not itself free.

One member of the forum put it this way, ‘How can Mswati ride on the high horse of “political morality” yet here in Swaziland we are living under an undemocratic dictatorship, when even the most basic principle of freedom - freedom to belong to a political organisation stays banned!

‘Just yesterday Mswati, when talking at his cattle byre, demonised and made a mockery of discerning political convictions of some of the citizens of Swaziland by saying he hoped the people who had attended the meeting had not be wooed by the “spirits of owls” - Mugabe also does not allow any opposition - ask Morgan.

‘Not long ago Swaziland congratulated the then illegitimate government of Kenya that had stolen an election. How can the leaders trust tinkhundla to all of a sudden talk sense on the Zimbabwe elections.’

Another member wrote, ‘I think that members of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations need to understand Mswati is the problem in Swaziland.

‘The reason why his all of a sudden interest in Zimbabwe is because he wants to divert attention from his own dictatorial regime. It seems like the SCCCO has fallen for this devious ploy. The statement paints a picture of a leader who is so much concerned about democracy and human rights. Nowhere in the statement is any critical reference to the situation in Swaziland.

‘This meeting calls into question the very credibility of SADC and the AU.’

Another member wrote, ‘We are seriously concerned about what is happening in Zimbabwe but not at the expense of the Swaziland situation. The reason I like PUDEMO struggle is that it is consistent. We have said Swaziland is worse than Zimbabwe because the system in Swaziland is the one that causes all problems. We have not changed from that position even now that Zimbabwe is in flames.

The member added, ‘We support the struggle in Zimbabwe fully and it is now desperate that serious decisions and actions are taken to put a stop to these problems but not by Swaziland. Because if Swaziland can take a center stage in solving such critical disputes to me it means we are making a joke of the situation in Zimbabwe because our situation is much worse.

‘Therefore, the SCCCO is misdirected to appreciate efforts by Mswati if they claim to be aware of the Swaziland political situation.’

Not everybody was against the SCCCO. One member wrote, ‘I believe the SCCCO is correct not to seek to take any opportunistic advantage from the situation. SCCCO has been a strong clear voice for the oppressed in Swaziland in the past, and particularly in the recent case of the striking textile workers. It has nothing to apologise for. It does its duty at the proper time. Right now the imperative is to support the struggle on the Zimbabwe front, and to concentrate all available forces on that front.

‘Swaziland is a member in good standing of SADC at the present time. That fact may be of assistance in the future, and all more so if the SADC acquits itself well in relation to the Zimbabwean struggle, and establishes a good precedent thereby.

‘Therefore the mature and correct approach is the one that the SCCCO has taken.

‘Swaziland’s time will come. Remember that on that day, too, you will want to concentrate all available forces on the problem of the day.’

As I write this - the day before the ‘election’ that will confirm Robert Mugabe as president - takes place in Zimbabwe the world waits in trepidation, fearing bloodshed and possible civil war. This is a tragedy. But pretending that Swaziland has moral authority when it comes to despotic regimes will not avert the tragedy.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

SWAZI GVT DOMINATES NEWS

There is an old saying among the more cynical media watchers that there is no need to censor or impose state controls on journalists, because journalists will keep in line without coercion.

I was reminded of this when I was looking through a research report on political reporting in Swaziland.

I have written about His Master’s Voice, Political Reporting in Swaziland 2007 previously. The report published in June 2008 by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland chapter, is a fascinating expose of the weaknesses of political reporting in particular and journalism more generally in Swaziland.

The research reveals that journalists in Swaziland are not doing their jobs. One of the roles of the journalist is to give people clear information about what is going on around them. Another role is to hold those in power to account.

Swazi journalists fall down on both of these roles.

The research, written by Mary Ellen Rogers, shows that political reporting in the Swazi media is overwhelmingly dominated by the voices and views of government.

Groups with opposing views, NGOs and ordinary people hardly get a chance to have their voices heard.

According to research, government sources accounted for 57 per cent of all sources in political coverage. Government here refers to cabinet, ministry staff, MPs, senators, spokespeople and such like.

But when you take a broader definition of ‘government’ to include King Mswati III, the justice system, traditional authorities and parastatals, the dominance of government voices in political stories increases to 75 per cent.

The second biggest single group of sources after government is civil society, but this sector only accounts for 13 percent of all sources in political coverage. Civil society refers to sources such as educators, workers, ordinary citizens, business people and religious leaders.

The research reveals that ‘a typical political story is a story with one source and that source is from government’. Government spoke most often about development. The issues that government spoke about least were poverty, crime and social welfare.

Development was also a favoured topic for the king. When the king was heard in political coverage he was almost exclusively speaking about development issues. On occasion, he was captured speaking on interstate relations, economics and corruption. Just two stories captured the king speaking about HIV AIDS.

Swazi journalists also let down the people by failing to hold those in power to account. There is no questioning of those in authority and very little contextualising of events.

The research stated,

‘Reporters tended to take events at face value. That is, they rarely asked questions of relevant sources and scrutinized the underlying issues. This resulted in very superficial reporting that covered who, what, when, where but repeatedly ignored the how and the why of the event.

‘It was rare to find evidence of the reporter directly questioning sources. Typically, a political story would just summarise the source’s public statements.

‘Few stories displayed an effort by the journalist to pursue the source with follow-up questions or take questions to other relevant sources.’


The report says that this failure by journalists ‘was particularly the case for television and radio’. Personally, I think this is unsurprising since most broadcasting in Swaziland is state-controlled and that which isn’t (Channel Swazi and Voice of the Church) is indistinguishable from the others in that they vehemently support the status quo in Swaziland.

His Master’s Voice goes on to identify that few stories were properly contextualized.

‘It was clear from many stories that the reporter’s aim was to report the simple facts of an event. There was rarely an effort to go beyond these basic details to explain the backdrop against which the event occurred, conduct research, interview diverse sources, find connections to other relevant stories, events, or mention recurring patterns.

‘As such, political stories were mostly reported as isolated incidents, with no attempt to explain the significance of the event within the broader social context, examine the impacts and mention solutions.’

The standard of political journalism in Swaziland is clearly very poor. I think there are a number of reasons for this and mostly, these are cultural. Swaziland is not a questioning society; people seem content on believing what they are told, without understanding there is more than one way to look at an issue. You only have to look at the way people believe the words of bogus pastors in the kingdom to see this in action.

The education system in Swaziland doesn’t encourage research. Pupils learn facts and then reproduce them in their essays. Journalists do much the same thing in their reports.

These cultural deficiencies can be seen in all walks of life in Swaziland, so perhaps we shouldn’t single out journalists for special mention in this regard.

However, we do expect higher standards from people who call themselves ‘journalists’, since they are supposed to be representing the needs of ordinary people, especially, but not exclusively, when questioning those in power.

His Master’s Voice offers a couple of recommendations on how to improve the standard of political reporting in Swaziland. It says that working journalists and editors should be trained in areas such as conducting research, fact checking, interviewing sources, balancing stories and adding context and analysis to stories. There should also be educational programmes for the media on political issues and matters of governance.

Personally, I think there is an over emphasis on ‘training’ here. It seems like a ‘quick fix’ and doesn’t really tackle to deep-seated problems that are ingrained in Swazi culture.

To change culture takes generations – not a couple of week-long training workshops.

I have the full His Master’s Voice report as a PDF file. If you want a copy, email me here swazimedia@yahoo.com

See also
REPORTING AND THE SINGLE SOURCE

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

DEREK VAN DAM REPLIES

Derek Van Dam, the man formerly sent by God to Swaziland, who is now reading the weather on eNews TV, has responded to my blogpost about him posted on Monday (23 June 2008). I reproduce his email below.

I have also had an email from a pal of Derek’s from college days who recounts stories about Derek’s behaviour that run contrary to his present image as a man sent by God. They are a bit too personal to reproduce here (sorry).


‘You know, you sure have quite a bit to say for an angry old man.

‘If you want a reality check, why don't you care to ask some of my co-workers the countless hours/days/weeks/months this has taken us to create.

‘I strive every day to make a quality weather presentation that is easily understood by our viewers.

‘If I mis-pronounce a city (that most South African's have difficulty with themselves anyway), I work twice as hard to make it better the next day. What do you have against me? Have I offended you?

‘Just so you know, because last time I checked you weren't at the interview with The Times...my words happened to be mis-construed a bit. In fact, on the audio recording, you can clearly hear the edits.

‘You be the judge for yourself. But in the meantime, leave the harsh comments out of your blog. You really aren't making any progress.

‘Derek Van Dam’

See also
GEORGEOUS DEREK STILL IN AFRICA

ANGER OVER ‘SWAZI NEWS’ DEATH PIX

The Swazi News’ decision to publish two pictures of dead bodies on its front page has angered readers of this blogsite.

Not one person has spoken in defence of the newspaper that showed two victims of a traffic accident. One was a close-up of a dead man at the wheel of his car. The other was a picture of a woman with her head bashed in and blood spilling onto the road.

Although shocked and angered by the images, readers have been telling me that these pictures are not the worse that the Swazi newspapers have published in recent times.

Top of your ‘hate parade’ comes from the Times of Swaziland (9 May 2008), which reported that the body of a newborn baby had been found hanging by its umbilical cord from a shrub. And there to illustrate the story was the picture.

I have to agree that this may well be the most sickening (and totally unnecessary from a news point of view) picture to be published by the Swazi newspapers ever.

Fatal car accidents are run of the mill to the newspapers. The Times (18 April 2008) had a front-page picture of an 18-year-old man crushed to death by a bus at the Manzini bus rank.

The Swazi Observer (7 April 2008) had a front-page picture of a dead man in his car following a crash involving a truck.

There is something almost pathological about these pictures. Why do people want to publish them and who wants to see them?

It is true there are a lot of sick people in the world. Would it surprise you to learn that there is an Internet website entirely devoted to pictures of car crashes?

Even when there is no picture available, the Swazi newspapers like to give graphic details of gore. The Observer (10 April 2008) reported on a grandmother who ‘was crushed to pulp’ when she alighted from a van and was immediately run over by a bus. ‘Her crushed remains had to be collected by the use of shovels and spades,’ the newspaper reported (and it reported much else besides).

I have had a number of emails complaining about the Swazi News since my original post.

‘Futi’ wrote to say that newspapers needed to remember that when an accident happened the victims were somebody’s relatives or friends, but seemingly it looks like the Swazi News only cares about its business. Journalists should remember that they do damage to our hearts by publishing such pictures, Futi says.

‘Margaret’ called the publication of the Swazi News pictures ‘trashy journalism’.

She wrote,

‘It’s ironic that the papers are so restricted and self-restricted on important national issues (such as political reporting), but when it comes to stuff like blood and gore, anything goes.

‘Another problem with the story is the prominence given to the fact that the accident happened just outside where some [government] ministers were meeting, so they might actually see something of the accident. For example the headline is Father, son die in front of Ministers and even the first sentence of the story emphasises that the accident could have been witnessed by the Ministers.

‘It's as if the main problem of the people dying is that it might disturb or taint those supposedly important people.’

‘Vusi’ put the Swazi News coverage in a wider context of Swazi journalism and broadcasting.

He wrote, ‘This reminds me the following;

‘1. A few years ago, the unfortunate death of some young boys who died a painful death when they accidentally locked themselves inside the boot of a sedan. Their naked bodies pictures made front page without any regards of the bereaved.

‘2. The explicit sex shown on Channel S without prior warning and shown when our kids are well awake!

‘3.I have listened to a number of radio adverts aired on SBIS, one just frown at the sexist and violence towards women some of these adverts contain e.g.

‘a) One which advertises some wire company in Matsapha, “utawu sitwa timomondiya tetintfombi.... (you shall be served by the gorgeous looking ladies.....”). The emphasis is on the very good looking women as part of the product being sold - that demeans our sisters as objects that will attract men to come and buy.

‘b) There is one that is done by Percy Simelane whereby the man says to the wife ngitakushaya ngikubulale - I will beat you to death) apparently over some poorly cooked meal or something of that nature. This is a pure promotion of violent domestic violence against women.

‘The like of WLSA & SWAAGA need to pay attention to such nonsense and hold the Minister of Public or is it royal broadcasting to account.’


Personally, I think the Swazi media should take account of the comments I have written about today: one thing is clear to me, readers don’t like this type of gory coverage and if editors believe their job is to give readers what they want, they are clearly failing in this regard.

See also
HORROR PICTURES IN ‘SWAZI NEWS’

‘TIMES’ APOLOGISES TO SWAZI HOTELS

I wondered out loud last week why it was that the Times of Swaziland had done a hatchet job on a Swazi hotel chain.

The Times had said that a customer survey had found that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Royal Swazi Sun chain of hotels.

I said that even a cursory look at the full customer satisfaction data would tell you that the hotel was actually serving its guests rather well, although there was some room for improvement.

I asked why it was that the Times decided to misrepresent the survey.

I haven’t had any answers to my questions, but the Times itself has now put its hands up and admitted it was wrong and ‘unreservedly apologised to management and staff at the hotels’.

This is what the Times said on Tuesday (24 June 2008),

‘It has since been brought to our attention that an article which appeared in the Times of Swaziland on Monday [16 June 2008] entitled ‘Royal Swazi Sun staff sulk at guests over pay’ contained some factual inaccuracies. In particular it was alleged that the standards in the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel, and / or Lugogo Sun, and / or Elzuwini Sun Hotels were not up to the expectations of a significant proportion of the Resort’s guests.

'We therefore would like to withdraw the contents of the article entirely and we unreservedly apologise to the Resort, its management and staff for any inconvenience this may have caused.’

As apologies go it’s a pretty fulsome one. Maybe a lawyer’s letter helped the Times make up its mind to apologise.

But, my main point remains unanswered. Why did the Times make such an obvious attack on the hotels with absolutely no evidence? I think the Times’ readers are owed an apology and an explanation.

See also
‘TIMES’ HATCHET JOB ON SWAZI HOTEL

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

SWAZI RADIO AND CENSORSHIP

I made headlines in the Swazi Observer earlier this month (June 2008) when I said at a public gathering in Swaziland that we should not consider media workers at the state-controlled SBIS radio to be ‘journalists’ because, in fact, they were propagandists.

Last week I wrote about how Swaziland’s ‘traditional prime minister’ Jim Gama had threatened journalists with punishments that could include the death penalty if they criticised King Mswati III.

Now, I am reminded of a case that neatly brings these two topics together.

It concerns a broadcaster at SBIS who allowed criticism of the king to go out live over the airwaves.

It happened in August 2006 when, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter, management of the radio station were told by government to ‘toe the line’ or the government would be forced to ‘pull the plug’ on programmes that are ‘wayward’.

Here is the background, according to MISA,

‘On August 24 2006, the minister for public service and information, Themba Msibi, warned the Swazi media against criticising the king, instilling further fear into an already timid press which cannot freely operate due to a perpetually hostile environment that continues to prevail despite the kingdom’s new Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.

‘The minister’s threats followed a live radio programme of news and current affairs in which a human rights lawyer criticised the king’s sweeping constitutional powers. Aired on the state broadcaster, the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), the human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, had been asked to comment on a visit by an African Union (AU) human rights team which was on a fact-finding mission to Swaziland during the week of 21 August.

‘In response, Maseko said that, as human rights activists, they had concerns about the king’s sweeping constitutional powers and the fact that he the king was wrongfully placed above the Constitution. He said they were going to bring this and other human rights violations to the attention of the AU delegation.

‘Not pleased with the broadcast, the government was quick to respond. Msibi spoke on air the following day to sternly warn the media against criticising the king. He said the media should exercise respect and avoid issues that seek to question the king or his powers.

‘The minister said his message was not directed only to radio but to all media, both private and government-owned. He said that in government they had noticed that there was growing trend in the media to criticise the king when he should be above criticism and public scrutiny.’

MISA continues, ‘A senior journalist at the radio station told MISA Swaziland: “Censorship is an everyday occurrence here. As a government medium, there is very little we can do. We just have to survive under the circumstances.”’

While we’re in the mood to ‘out’ SBIS for the propaganda tool that it is, let’s remember what happened in April 2003 when Abednego Ntshangase became public service and information minister.

According to the Committee to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York, ‘speaking at his first official appearance before the House of Assembly, Ntshangase told parliamentarians, “The national television and radio stations are not going to cover anything that has a negative bearing on government.”’

Ntshangase warned that those who do not support government policies will be barred from broadcasting their views.’The ban on negative content was to apply to SBIS, which operates the only news-carrying radio channels in the kingdom, and to Swazi TV, the kingdom’s only television station. Both outlets are state run.

It was abut this time that Swazi-TV news director, Sabelo Masuku, refused to hand over footage of a protest march conducted by teachers, which the cabinet wished to scrutinise, and was fired.

‘Government can fire the news departments whenever there is a disagreement, but eventually they will run out of people,’ said Masuku.

He noted that the most talented Swazi broadcast journalists leave the country for more lucrative media work in South Africa and elsewhere.

See also
SWAZI KING THREAT TO MEDIA FREEDOM

Monday, 23 June 2008

HORROR PICTURES IN ‘SWAZI NEWS’

The Swazi News made a bad error of judgement when it published two pictures of dead bodies on its front page this week.

The pictures accompanied a report of a traffic accident in which a kombi (small bus) and a car were in collision.

The first picture showed a close up of the dead body of the driver, dead at the wheel of his car. The second picture showed a dead body of a woman on the ground with blood coming from a head wound.

The newspaper reported that the woman had been thrown through the windscreen of the kombi and ‘crashed head-on on the tarmac. She died on the spot.’

The Swazi News (21 June 2008) published more pictures of the accident inside the paper, including the same picture as appeared on the front page of the dead man on page 2 and another view of the dead woman on page 9.

(I noticed that the Weekend Observer, which also covered the traffic accident and published photographs, did not use any of dead bodies.)

There are a number of reasons why it was wrong of the Swazi News to publish the pictures.

First, I doubt if the motives of the Swazi News were pure. The pictures were clearly displayed on the front page and could be seen by passers by at the newsstands and supermarkets where the newspaper is sold. There was an obvious attempt to use these pictures to catch the eye of people who may not have intended to buy the paper. Once hooked, the passer-by purchases the paper.

That’s a pretty cynical move by the Swazi News. But what about the rest of us who are innocently out about town and are confronted by the gruesome pictures? Why should we be forced into seeing the Swazi News photographs? It is almost impossible not to see the photographs even if you don’t want to. Also, what about children who may innocently see them? What effect will it have on them?

The lurid attraction of the photos in selling more copies must have been important to the Swazi News because otherwise there was no need to publish the same picture of the man in the car on both page one (to increase sales) and on page 3 (to illustrate the story).

Another point to consider (no matter where in the newspaper the photographs were published) is the actual ‘news value’ of the photographs. What does showing two pictures of a woman with her head bashed in and blood pouring onto the tarmac add to the story? The obvious answer is that the pictures ‘show it as it is’. This accident happened in a public place and two people were violently killed and the public should be told.

Well up to a point, yes. But there are plenty of things going on in Swaziland that the public should be told about but remain hidden by the newspapers.

So, we must conclude that the pictures were considered to have some kind of ‘dramatic value’. Although they are horrific pictures, I’m not so sure that they are ‘dramatic’. Both pictures are static (the bodies are after all dead) and show nothing in action. They are ‘shocking’ certainly, but not dramatic.

There is one other factor that the Swazi News has ignored: intrusion into private grief. The people in the photographs are local. There is every possibility that the families and friends of the deceased will see the pictures splashed all over the newspaper. What do you think they would feel when they see them? What would you feel if it were your husband, father or brother in the picture?

Newspapers in Swaziland do no shy away from publishing shocking photographs. The ones in the Swazi News were the most extreme pictures to be published recently, but it is not uncommon to see pictures of people who are horribly disfigured by disease or through accident. Dead bodies have also been published before.

Media academic Johan Retief in his book Media Ethics (published by Oxford University Press) says that publishing gruesome pictures in newspapers can actually harm the readers by inflicting lasting pain and suffering on them – ‘this especially concerns pictures of tragedy, suffering, and grief – the stuff that fills every newspaper – such as accidents, rape, murder, fires, natural disasters, violence and war.’

Readers are thought to linger longer over gruesome pictures while ignoring other parts of the newspaper.

Retief says that editors often argue that by graphically publicising gruesome events such as traffic accidents, newspapers help to prevent further incidents of the same kind happening in the future (or at least help to limit them).

But he points out that for years newspapers have run pictures of traffic accidents ‘under the pretext that such photos would somehow let motorists know what awaits them should they become careless behind the wheel’.

But he concludes that even though gruesome photos of accidents are published, there is no evidence to demonstrate that publishing such photos has any effect on car accidents.

Retief wasn’t thinking about Swaziland when he made those observations, but it is clear that traffic accidents form a staple part of all newspaper coverage in the kingdom. Hardly a week goes by without a picture of a mangled vehicle (and sometimes worse) appearing on the front pages and they seem to have no impact on the standard of driving in Swaziland, which remains appallingly bad.

Retief offers a checklist for photographers and editors to consider before publishing a photograph. Here is an extract from that list.

- What is the news value of the photograph?
- What is the motivation for publishing the photo?
- Who will be offended? Does such offence outweigh the value of presenting the image?
- How would I react if I were in the photo?
- Are there any alternative ways to present the information to minimise harm while still telling the story in a clear way?
- Are you able to justify you action?

GEORGEOUS DEREK STILL IN AFRICA

After all the flak I got from the God Squad a previous time I wrote about him, I hesitate to bring you an update on the work of Derek Van Dam.

Derek was the American who read the weather forecast on television in Michigan. He came on a ‘missionary’ trip to Swaziland and sent broadcasts back to United States television showing how helpless the Swazis were and how wonderful were the Americans.

Now, Derek is reading the weather forecast – rather badly it would seem – on the new South African news channel eNews.

Not only is he having trouble with pronouncing South African place names, it seems he is getting the eye from female viewers.

‘I must say, though, we have some pretty forward females out there who just won’t stop until they get what they want!’ he told thetimes.co.za.

The online newspaper reports, ‘Comments like “simply gorgeous”, “finally a reason to watch the news” and “local is lekker, but the new weather guy is mesmeri sing” abound.’

It seems Derek, aged 25, who was first attracted to Africa by the poverty and disease has wowed the women so much that he has been offered modelling contracts.

Station group news editor Patrick Conroy said Derek was also in demand by other companies who want him ‘to endorse their products’ or as a guest speaker.

The television station has made a virtue out of the fact that Derek can’t pronounce many place names in South Africa when he is broadcasting his weather forecast.

This hasn’t upset Derek one bit, ‘I would say 95% of South Africans have been overwhelmingly positive and fantastic,’ Derek told www.thetimes.co.za.

Derek might care to read some of the comments that have appeared about him on the blog accompanying the thetimes.co.za report for a reality check.

OK God Squad over to you……

See also
DEREK COMES TO AFRICA
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 1
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 2
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 3

DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 4

Sunday, 22 June 2008

REPORTING AND THE SINGLE SOURCE

Political reporting in the Swazi media is poor because there is little or no attempt on the part of journalists to find out information beyond a single source.

A fully rounded news report on any topic ought to have a variety of voices so that all sides of a story can be covered. This also ensures that all relevant information is included in the report.

This is especially important when the topic being reported about is a matter of controversy.

The recently published research report, His Master’s Voice: Political Reporting in Swaziland 2007, reveals that most political stories in Swaziland media only have one source of information.

According to the report, written by Mary Ellen Rogers and published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter, 55 percent of political stories only had one source of information.

This, the report concludes is the ‘chronic problem in the Swazi media’ and it spreads across newspapers, radio and television.

‘The number of single-sourced stories in political coverage is fairly evenly distributed across all media. Though the Times Sunday had notably fewer single sourced stories (41 percent) than the worst performer, Weekend Observer (68 percent), it still published an extraordinarily high number of single-sourced stories.’

Sources were usually confined to the person who was the subject of the story. For example, if the story was about the Prime Minister denouncing the police union, most reporters would only source the Prime Minister. ‘There was very rarely any effort to take the event/issue to other relevant sources to seek verification, responses, comment or analysis.’

The report says,

‘Adding sources is the most obvious way to deepen information and develop the story. But the monitoring revealed journalists across all media did not regularly source people other than those who were the subject of the event. And broadcasting, in particular, demonstrated a pattern of ignoring relevant sources in favour of government sources.

‘For example, a Swazi TV report of a film industry conference attended by the Minister for Public Service and Information interviewed the Minister only, despite the fact that there were many other non-government sources that would have been more relevant and informative.’

By coincidence (I think) a senior print journalist has also been considering the use of sources by Swazi journalists. Ackel Zwane, writing in the Swazi Observer (13 June 2008), blames the problem of ‘flimsy sourcing’ on the unwillingness of sources ‘to be on the record’.

According to Zwane, Swazi Government officials are among the worst culprits.

‘The sources claim they have been “gagged” by their superiors, especially ministers. This is common in countries such as ours where there is no access-to-information law.

‘Under the circumstances, as in the case of Swaziland, the information is closely guarded against being public and becomes private property of the government of the day.

‘Gagging the government officials, by extension, is gagging the media.’

Zwane continues, ‘The government has been so unwilling to cooperate with the media that journalists have become all too happy to give anonymity to inside sources in exchange for nuggets of information. Even higher-ups simply giving routine briefing sessions often demand anonymity, hence the proliferation of the term “senior government official”’

This problem, Zwane says is also common in the private business sector. He cites the cases of the recent strikes in the textile industries and at Standard Bank as examples where employers would not give information to reporters, forcing them to submit incomplete stories to their editors.

Personally, I think journalists have very real problems if they use anonymous sources. The use of such sources makes it impossible for anyone to rely on and trust the information and analysis that it is contained in the news reports and articles. This means the use of anonymous sources undermines the integrity and standing of the work of journalists and the media generally.

One way around the problem of the use of anonymous sources is for journalists generally to use more sources.

MISA’s report, His Master’s Voice, makes a useful recommendation when it suggests that journalists should have a greater diversity in the role of sources, so that they include analysts and experts or people speaking from personal experience.

Or put another way: the more people you have in your report, the les you need to rely on any one of them individually.

I have the His Master’s Voice report as a PDF file. If you would like a copy email me here. swazimedia@yahoo.com

See also
ANONYMOUS SOURCES

Saturday, 21 June 2008

END ‘SLAVE WAGES’ - SWAZI MPS

Swaziland’s MPs have endorsed a move to increase the ‘slave wages’ paid to textile workers in the kingdom.

Wages in the textile industry in Swaziland have not increased since 2004, the Swazi Parliament was told.

The news comes after textiles workers went on strike to demand better living conditions. The strike, although perfectly legal, was met with brutality by the police. The workers’ trade union is presently suing the police for damages. 4 june

The Swazi Observer reported yesterday (20 June 2008) that Swazi members of parliament have endorsed a resolution to have textile workers’ wages reviewed annually.

The Observer reported that MPs were told that ‘the cost of living was soaring by the day.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Kwaluseni MP Sibusisio Nkambule described the remuneration paid to textile workers as “slave wages” calling for improvements of these immediately.’

I have already reported that wages are so low in the textile industry that workers have to live six people to a room and sleep three to a bed in order to survive.

Textile workers said some women had to resort to prostitution in order to get by on the low wages they were paid.

Meanwhile, the Weekend Observer today (21 June 2008) carries an interview with one of the textiles workers who was shot by the police during the strike.

Nhlanhla Nkambule, who still has a bullet lodged in his thigh, says, ‘I wish I could die than to endure such suffering.’

Although Nkambule can hardly stand or walk, he has had to return to work in order to pay for food for his family.

The Weekend Observer reports, ‘He said he voted for the strike for one reason only, to see an improvement in his salary so he could better manage his family.

The newspaper reports Nkambule saying, ‘I went on strike because I wanted money to feed my children but now I have turned their enemy because I cannot provide for them..’

Nkambule said he wanted to know why the police went on the rampage and attacked the textile workers who were engaged in a legal strike.

He told the newspaper, ‘I still need an explanation because we were engaging in a legal industrial action.’

He added, ‘If police reacted so harshly during a legal strike, how many could have been killed if it were an illegal strike?’

The Weekend Observer reported, ‘He said there was no way the police could justify such brutality because strikers were peaceful and orderly. “The union leadership would warn us against violence because that could cost them heavy penalties according to the Industrial Relations Act as amended,” he said.

‘Nkambule has been living with the bul­let since 14 March 14 2008 after he was alleged­ly short at close range by a police officer who first cast all sorts of expletives at him before pulling the trigger.

‘“I cannot forget that day. I learnt that life depends on the mercy of the police,” he said.

‘Explaining, Nkambule said he and col­leagues were just minding their own business near Texray when police pounced on them and fired teargas canisters.

‘“We ran in all directions as the police pur­sued us,’ he recalled, mentioning that he ran along a narrow passage between two factories where he came across a woman with a nerve racking gun shot on the back.

‘“I realise police were at war,” said. Nkambule added that he was inside a certain “container” near Sigodvweni where he and others had sought refuge only to be ordered out a few seconds later.

‘He said if the intension was to effect arrests, that was the place to do it, but alleged that the police ordered them to vacate the con­tainer before letting a hail of bullets off as they all tried to force their way out of the gate.’

See also
BATTERED WORKERS SUE SWAZI POLICE

THE PLANE AND SWAZI RAIN

I expressed my annoyance at the Swazi Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives last week because he refused to dismiss the absurd idea that Swaziland’s drought was being caused by an aircraft shooting away rain clouds.

I had this response to the post from Arnau van Wyngaard, who gives some interesting background to the story.

I don't want to express an opinion about the article you refer to, but I do recall in 1986 or 1987 that there was someone from Pongola who was flying all along the southern border of Swaziland when clouds appeared and released, I think it was sulphur, into the clouds which was supposed to make the vapor droplets cling to each other and so become heavy enough for it to rain.

As I travelled frequently between Nhlangano and Hluti, I saw this with my own eyes on more than one occasion. However, on all occasions, before I reached my destination, the clouds had disappeared into thin air and I never experienced it raining after that aeroplane had released the chemical into the clouds.

Even at that time the story was told that this aeroplane was shooting the clouds and thereby causing the drought.

I'll withhold myself on commenting about the science behind the theory, but I think this is probably the background to the article you mentioned.

See also
‘AIRCRAFT CAUSE SWAZI DROUGHT’

Friday, 20 June 2008

XENOPHOBIA IN THE SWAZI PRESS

Why are the newspapers in Swaziland so xenophobic?

That might seem an odd question to ask when day after day the newspapers publish news reports of the xenophobic attacks taking place in South Africa. And they supplement them with ‘think piece’ articles telling us why xenophobia and racism are wrong and why we should fight these evils.

All these reports and some of the comment articles are sourced from outside Swaziland with most from the South Africa Press Association.

But when you turn to the pages of the newspapers that are written by Swaziland journalists, you get a steady drip, drip, drip of racism and xenophobia.

Here is a selection of articles from recent papers.

Bennett comes hard on Indians influx. Acting mayor of Mbabane, Walter Bennett ‘condemned the high influx of Asian nationals in the country. ‘Calling a spade a spade’ he criticised the government policies which allow the influx of foreign nationals (Asians) to conduct business in the country. Radio personality Beauty Lomatsengela Thwala shared the same sentiments with Bennett. (Swazi News 14 June 2008).

Xenophobic smell on the whyless. Column of radio review about Walter Bennett speaking on SBIS radio. [He] ‘went on and on about Indians taking businesses that would otherwise be easily done or carried out by Swazis’ The reviewer Gogo on the Whyless agrees with Bennett ‘fully’. (Swazi News 14 June).

Thokozani wins Timber City tools. Report about a winner of a competition who received E3,300 (about 470 US Dollars) worth of tools. Acting mayor of Mbabane Walter Bennett handed over the prize. ‘Bennett congratulated Timber City for conducting business in good faith as opposed to other businesses, especially those owned by Asians. However, Bennett acknowledged that not all Asians operated in sleaze, saying some should be recognised for their good work.’ Bennett is quoted saying, ‘The ministry of enterprise and employment should recognise such companies [as Timber City] instead of the Asians who trade at the expense of Swazis.’ (Swazi Observer, 11 June 2008).

Chinese company buying stolen goats? Residents of Siphofaneni area say a Chinese company ‘is largely responsible for the loss of their goats in the area.’ The company is buying goats from people without checking to see if they are stolen. (Times Sunday 8 June 2008).

Hire a Mozambican elections scam exposed. An attempt to register Mozambican nationals for the up coming elections has been exposed. (The Swazi constitution allows for foreigners to vote in certain circumstances). (Swazi News 7 June 2008)

Goat rustling at Siphofaneni Asian community major buyers. Report on Afghan national who is stealing goats and then sells them to his friends as ‘halaal meat’. (Note this is the same area as the Times Sunday story about the Chinese) (Weekend Observer, 7 June 2008).

Celebrating 40 years of food, economic dependency? Teetee Zwane in a confusing article (it’s not clear if Zwane is for or against what she writes about) writes that in Swaziland ‘Revere the Western man with a fat purse and let the African man fend for himself.’ ‘A case in point is the national police force’s response to crime. A man of Western origin calls the police claiming to have been attacked on his property by native Africans in a foreign registered vehicle in Malkerns. Within five minutes, two police vehicles rush to the scene with a third from the Special Investigations Unit (Lukhozi) hot on their colleagues’ heels, guns and rifles literally blazing. The crime? Three Africans speaking eloquent English (even better than the Westerners) against an affluent man considered of more importance because he has supposedly brought investment to the country. What does that tell you?’ (Swazi Observer 4 June 2008)

Bheka Mabuza sums it up. Report of summing up of speeches at the peoples’ parliament. Secretary of the king’s advisory council, Liqoqo, Bheka Mabuza, ‘told the King that Swazis were not pleased by the many foreign investors especially the ones that own fish and chips outlets and grocery shops. (Times Sunday 15 June 2008)

This is a random selection of reports and articles. There is nothing unusual about the list. You could make a similar list any week of the year.

If you researched the types of xenophobic reports being published in the Swazi press, top of the list would be ‘Asians’ – mostly Indians – who, the press leads us to believe are ‘taking our jobs’ or ‘trading (and sometimes living) in the kingdom illegally’.

Also high in the list would be stories about Mozambicans or Nigerians (both ‘untrustworthy’).

Colleen Lowe Morna (who describes herself as ‘a South African born in Zimbabwe of South African parents’), in an article for Gender Links, republished in the Weekend Observer (7 June 2008), describes xenophobia in this way,

‘Xenophobia, like homophobia, sexism, and racism has its roots in the failure to accept “otherness” mixed with misguided notions about the superiority of self. That fragile self is constantly threatened by the potential power of the other, whether numerical, social political or economic.’

You can see from the selection of articles from the Swazi press listed above how the ‘Asian threat’ is constructed in terms of numerical and economic power (the ‘influx’ of Asians Bennett talks about; the ‘fish and chips’ business referred to by Mabuza).

So why does the Swazi press do it? The answer as so often is complicated. The press are not alone in the xenophobia. Three of the xenophobic reports I listed above centred on the acting mayor of Mbabane, Walter Bennett. Bennett is a bit of a darling of the Swazi media (often referred by them as a ‘crime buster’, although in the three years I have been in Swaziland I don’t recall him ‘busting’ any crime). Bennett also knows how to manipulate the media to ensure he gets maximum coverage both for himself and his business.

So, the media cover what he says. What the media don’t easily understand is that Bennett has racist thoughts. His distain for ‘Asians’ and ‘Muslims’ is well known and too often reported uncritically.

There may be some hope on the Bennett front. I saw that although the Observer reported uncritically his racist comments at the store prize handover, the Times of Swaziland, in its report, ignored them and concentrated on the prize giving itself.

But, this is not a blogpost about Walter Bennett. He is, however, part of a bigger problem and that problem is the general distrust of ‘foreigners’ that Swazi people have.

Swazis and their news media like to pass themselves off as friendly, welcoming people, but that actually isn’t the case much of the time. In life generally there is a lot of discrimination against foreigners, including people from nearby African countries. Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Tanzanians and Mozambicans are mostly distrusted in Swazi society. This discrimination extends across all social classes, even into the ‘educated’ classes. There is as much distrust of foreigners at the University of Swaziland (where I work) as anywhere else in Swaziland.

So, the Swazi media are a mirror to the society at large. That doesn’t however let them off the hook. Journalists themselves recognise the role they play in educating the public.

Article 6 of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct says journalists must not ‘originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation’.

All of the articles in my list above contravene Article 6.

Although it is important for SNAJ to have a code of conduct about racist reporting, unfortunately Article 6 lacks details and is not that useful for journalists who are trying to do the right thing.

This xenophobia and racism is not confined to Swaziland. Journalists in other parts of the world have to confront racists and racist attitudes every day and have created their own codes of conduct.

One that is more detailed than that of SNAJ is from the National Union of Journalists in the UK. Here is an extract from its guidelines that journalists in Swaziland might like to take note of.

Guidelines ratified by the National Union of Journalists (UK and Ireland) for all its members to follow when dealing with race relations subjects.

The NUJ believes that its members cannot avoid a measure of responsibility in fighting the evil of racism as expressed through the mass media.

The NUJ reaffirms its total opposition to censorship but equally reaffirms its belief that press freedom must be conditioned by responsibility and an acknowledgement by all media workers of the need not to allow press freedom to be abused to slander a section of the community or to promote the evil of racism.

The NUJ believes the methods and lies of the racists should be publicly and vigorously exposed.

The NUJ believes that newspapers and magazines should not originate material which encourages discrimination on grounds of race or colour, as expressed in the NUJ's rule book and code of conduct.


The NUJ believes that editors should ensure that coverage of race stories should be placed in a balanced context.

Race reporting

Only mention someone’s race if it is strictly relevant.

Do not sensationalise race relations issues.

Immigrant is often used as a term of abuse. Do not use it unless the person really is an immigrant.

Be wary of disinformation. Just because a source is traditional does not mean it is accurate.

When interviewing representatives of racist organisations or reporting meetings or statements or claims, journalists should carefully check all reports for accuracy and seek rebutting or opposing comments. The anti-social nature of such views should be exposed.

Do not allow the letters column or 'phone-in' programmes to be used to spread racial hatred in whatever guise.

See also
PREJUDICE AGAINST MUSLIMS RIFE

Thursday, 19 June 2008

SWAZI KING ‘THREAT TO MEDIA FREEDOM’

King Mswati III is the main threat to media freedom in Swaziland, according to a research report soon to be published.

As a result of constant intimidation by the King and his circle of traditional advisors, the media in Swaziland are too scared to criticize the King or anything connected or close to him.

The research was conducted for the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter.

In a media release published on Tuesday (17 June 2008), MISA says the report, conducted on behalf of MISA Swaziland by Professor Richard Rooney of the University of Swaziland, ‘found that the monarchy was by far the main threat to press freedom in Swaziland.’

The research report comes as traditional authorities in Swaziland continue to harass and intimidate the media, particularly in instances when the Swazi monarchy faces criticism.

The MISA media statement says,

‘On 14 June 2008, the traditional governor, Jim Gama, who is regarded as the traditional prime minister, launched a scathing attack on the print media and threatened journalists for what he claimed was “negative reporting” on a national gathering called by King Mswati III at Ludzidzini royal kraal, the traditional capital.

‘Without specifying any media outlet or journalist, Gama accused the print media of having reported negatively about the national gathering, where people had been called to debate national issues under a forum called Peoples' Parliament.

‘Speaking in the presence of King Mswati III, Gama, in his threats, said the offending journalists should be punished using “umphini”, which in Swazi traditional folklore is tantamount to capital punishment.

‘Gama, addressing the King, said: “Your Majesty, you gave them the freedom to write and with that freedom they are now disrespecting you. You want the same people who are in this kraal to buy that paper that has created a wrong picture about that is happening here.”

‘He said the newspaper instead should have reported that the royal kraal was filled to the brim (in response to the King’s summons) and that Swazis loved their king.

‘The threats coincided with an impassioned apology which the privately-owned Times of Swaziland newspaper published on 15 June, following a story that appeared on 13 June, which claimed that government was to use a E15 million (more than 2 million US Dollars) allocation to pay for the national gathering. The budget allocation is reserved for national celebrations.’


The media release concluded, ‘MISA Swaziland frowns on intimidation of any kind directed against the media, and will use the findings of the recent study on censorship to target the King’s court to educate traditionalists about the role of media in society.’

See also
‘DISRESPECT SWAZI KING AND DIE’

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

NEW SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BLOGSITE

I have started a new blogsite that contains information and comment about the Swaziland National Elections 2008.

One of the reasons I started it was my frustration at not being able to find much about Swaziland’s previous elections in 2003.

So, I decided to be a bit of a librarian or archivist and I have put on the site as much information about the current elections as I have been able to get hold of.

But I’m certain that I’m missing lots of good stuff.

And that’s where you come in.

If you have any media cuttings, press releases, educational material, reports, commentaries, pamphlets, links to sites (and anything else besides) that you would be happy to share with the world, please let me know. (And I do mean share with the world: Swazi Media Commentary has readers in all continents and I hope the new Swaziland Elections 2008 will have a similar following.)

If you have contributions, please email them to me at swazimedia@yahoo.com

The blogsite is at www.swazielections.blogspot.com


Keep ‘em coming,

Richard

‘TIMES’ HATCHET JOB ON SWAZI HOTEL

What has the Times of Swaziland newspaper got against the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel?

I ask because the newspaper did an extraordinary hatchet job on the hotel in its edition on Monday (16 June 2008).

The newspaper used a whole page to report, ‘Almost half of the guests who stayed at the prestigious Royal Swazi Sun hotel in May declared they were not happy with the attitude of the staff at these hotels.’

The report went on to say that of 57 guests who gave opinions about staff attitudes at breakfast time, 30 said they were dissatisfied. At dinner, 30 guests were not happy with the staff and 21 were.

What concerns me is that the newspaper also reproduced the full data from the customer survey and on reading this you can see an entirely different picture of customer satisfaction. When asked about their attitudes to a variety of personal services (reception, telephone operators, porters etc) a total of 89 percent had positive responses. A total of 86 percent were positive about the guest rooms and 84 percent were pleased with the overall breakfast facilities.

When asked ‘how do you rate Royal Swazi Sun Valley’, total of 100 percent were positive.

So I ask the question again: why did the Times do a hatchet job on the hotel?

There may be a number of reasons. The first that comes to mind is this is a typical example of ‘attack journalism’ - that is when you attack someone or something for the sake of it, because you have a grudge against them, or because it just makes a good story. I don’t know what the Royal Swazi Sun has done to upset the newspaper. Did the reporter have a bad experience in the bar one night?

Another reason might be that someone led the reporter by the nose to write the story. As well as giving the statistics the reporter also writes about how dissatisfied some of the staff who work at the hotel are and how they feel underpaid.

Did the reporter allow himself to be carried away a bit by the workers so as to write a favourable story for them?

I don’t know the answers, but what is clear is that even a cursory look at the full customer satisfaction data would tell you that the hotel is actually serving its guests rather well, although there is some room for improvement.

I think by distorting the figures so obviously the Times has cheated its readers.

By the way, I am not employed by the hotel to write good things about it. In fact, I have never stayed at the hotel. But should the Royal Swazi Sun feel that they would like to reward me for my support by offering a complimentary ‘run of hotel’ stay, I am free in early July.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

SWAZI POLITICAL DEBATE ‘NARROW’

The media in Swaziland narrow the opportunities for political debate, according to research recently published.

The narrow range of topics covered by newspapers, television and radio, is in some ways simply a reflection of the priorities that Swaziland’s government has.

The research called His Master’s Voice: Political Reporting in Swaziland 2007, published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter, examined media output over five weeks in 2007.

It examined which topics were covered in political reporting in the media, identifying the type of political events, issues and debates that were reported, and how often.

The report found ‘that there was little diversity in political reporting. Political reporting was clearly dominated by just four issues: labour/workers rights, the justice system, development and corruption. Other topics such as HIV AIDS and poverty are barely reported on as political issues or in relation to government policies and activities.’

The most common political story was about labour/workers’ rights issues (14 percent of all political stories). Within this topic there were a variety of stories, including workplace disputes involving government, dealings between government and unions, efforts to form a police union, civil servants and teachers demanding better pay and conditions, a nurses’ strike, activities and initiatives of the Department of Employment and court cases on labour issues pitting government against workers. No one particular labour story dominated.

This led the report’s author, Mary Ellen Rogers, to conclude, ‘This diversity of political stories on labour-related issues demonstrates that workers’ rights across the board was the dominant political story.’

Political stories about the justice system were mainly about court rulings on casesinvolving government, in particular the Mzikayise dispute over burial rights of a former chief. Other justice system stories were about constitutional issues, legislation, bills, High Court appointments and the Judicial Services Commission.
Development stories were about development projects and policies that involve government. The monitoring revealed that development was one of the government's policy areas most commonly reported on.

The stories about corruption included coverage of a drug procurement scandal where three MPs were accused of abusing their office, an E50m (more than 4 million US dollars) corruption case involving key government figures, government fraud and conflict of interest stories, in particular, a story a story about conflict of interest at the parastatal, Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC).

These four topics - labour/workers’ rights, justice system, development and corruption - occupied almost 50 percent of the political coverage during the monitoring period.

On the other hand, government spending, democracy, HIV/AIDS and poverty together accounted for just nine percent of all political stories.

The report also found that political reporting was overwhelmingly dominated by stories ‘of national significance’, that is stories that had a national focus – these accounted for 86 percent of all political stories.

The report noted that the representation of regional political stories was ‘extremely low.’ Hhohho was ‘clearly the favoured region’. Hhohho is home to Swaziland’s capital city Mbabane and is also the region where all the kingdom’s media houses are based.

The report concluded, ‘The media’s concentration in Hhohho limits its potential to report equitably on all regions.

‘Lubombo, Shiselweni and Manzini barely featured in political reporting.’

I have the full report as a PDF file. If you want a copy, email me here swazimedia@yahoo.com

See also
SWAZI POLITICAL REPORTING IS POOR

SWAZI ANTI-ABUSE GROUP PRO-WHIPPING

In Swaziland it’s all right to beat up your children so long as you don’t beat them up too much.

Wait a moment, it gets better: this is according to the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse. Yes, you read that correctly AGAINST abuse.

Nontobeko Mbuyane, the programme director of the organisation known locally as SWAGAA, was responding to recent reports of ‘severe beatings meted out on children by their parents and teachers’. She told the Swazi Observer yesterday (16 June 2008) that SWAGAA ‘condemned’ such beatings.

Well, as it happens SWAGAA only ‘condemns’ them a little bit. The Observer reports her saying ‘away with child violence and beating without a valid cause’.

The Observer said, ‘She stressed though that they were not saying children must not be beaten but that appropriate care should be taking when punishing them.’

The comments come after two reports last week about children assaulted at their schools.

The Times of Swaziland (11 June 2008) reported that a girl, aged 15, was stripped of her pantyhose before being whipped ‘about 15 times until the sjambok broke’.

The newspaper shows graphic photographs of the scars left on her thighs. Channel Swazi (Channel S) had also featured the girl in a news report the previous evening. The Times reports that the school disputes she got 15 lashes – the principal said she only got six.

On the same day (11 June 2008), the Swazi Observer reported the case of a form-four boy who was ‘severely beaten’ with six lashes by the deputy principal at his school. The newspaper showed photographs on its front page of welts and bruises on the boy’s thighs.

I said previously that such assaults on children by their parents, guardians and schools are common in Swaziland. When questioned, adults in Swaziland in large numbers support the use of corporal punishment on children.

I doubt if this will change any time soon. The use of violence is ingrained in Swazi culture, even though the kingdom’s leaders try to tell the world that Swaziland is a ‘peaceful’ kingdom.

I pity the children of Swaziland and I pity them all the more so that an organisation such as SWAGAA that is suppose to be against abuse, supports their continued whipping.

See also
SWAZI CHILDREN WHIPPING STORM
SWAZI CHILD WHIPPING – UPDATE

Monday, 16 June 2008

SWAZILAND AND ZAMBIA DRAW

To use an old sportswriters’ cliché, Swaziland has gone soccer crazy over the past week or so as qualifying games for the FIFA World Cup have been taking place.

Last week Swaziland (known to supporters as ‘Sihlangu’) beat Togo 2-1 – the first soccer match of any kind that Swaziland had won in six years. Togo had appeared in the last FIFA World Cup finals in 2006, so were a team to reckon with.

Yesterday (15 June 2006), Swaziland managed a creditable nil-nil draw against Zambia. Sihlangu now tops the log table of its group.

Today (16 June 2008), Zambian newspapers have been commenting on the match – and unusually for newspapers who support the ‘other team’, they have had some respectful things to say about Sihlangu.

Here, courtesy of the website zambiafootball.com, are some of those reports (with a couple from Swaziland thrown in for good measure).

Barren Draw - Zambia Daily Mail

“We came for a win. Swaziland is not an easy team and I now understand why Togo lost. Swaziland played with a good heart. We played but not enough to win,” Renard said.

Mashaba said he was happy with the result because Zambia were not an easy team to overcome.

“I said before the game that it would be a difficult game. There was more intelligence than the Togo game. The result shows it’s no longer easy to win at home,” Mashaba said.

Close to 10 000 national team, Sihlangu supporters left the Somhlolo National Stadium not knowing whether to laugh or cry after the nation’s pride held its own to force a tame goalless draw against a tactically astute Zambia’s Chipolopolo in a pulsating Africa Cup/World Cup 2010 qualifier here yesterday.

Then came a defining moment in the 74th minute that almost caused a few cardiac arrests inside the stadium when Tony ‘TT’ Tsabedze made a suicidal back pass to the goalkeeper, only for Jacob Mulenga to steal the ball and round off Njabuliso before laying for Christopher Katongo, who ballooned the ball over the bar.

Swaziland hold Zambia - Times of Zambia

SWAZILAND held Zambia to a barren draw here to continue with their series of surprise results in their march towards the 2010 World Cup and African Cup soccer finals.

In this match played at Somhlolo stadium, Zambia put up a blistering second-half performance and crafted a myriad of scoring opportunities but still could not crack a stubborn Swazi side.Before the match started, the Zambian officials, who included FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya, his deputy Emmanuel Munaile, Mwamelo and a Zambian diplomat accredited to Swaziland, Damales Chamolyo, were denied entry into Somhlolo national stadium and they spent almost over 30 minutes outside before entering.

"It was too bad for our delegation and we didn’t anticipate it from Swaziland. But then, we have concluded that this was a ploy to get back to us as Swaziland complained that they were exposed to sub-standard treatment while in Lusaka for the inaugural CAF African National Championships Tournament. I don’t believe this was the way to go for the Swazi FA more so because they knew we were coming. Another thing that angered us is that they failed to even recognize our government representative madam Damales Chamyolo," Kalusha told the Times of Swaziland.

The gatekeepers had refused entry to the officials, claiming that the Swaziland team was mistreated in Zambia when it came for the African Nations Championships qualifier last month. The Zambian officials were forced to just negotiate their way into the stadium.

Swazis hold Zambia - Zambia's The Post

ZAMBIA’S chances for a place at the 2010 World Cup were yesterday thrown into complete disarray following a barren draw against Swaziland at Somhlolo Stadium in Mbabane.The result leaves the Chipolopolo Boys with the slimmest of chances to get to both the Africa Cup in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa.

Coach Herve Renard’s side is reeling in third position with a single point and no goal after 180 minutes of action.It is one of Zambia’s poorest and extremely dismal performances to the start of any qualifying series.In fact, the last decade has never seen the Chipolopolo Boys launch their campaign on such an embarrassing note – a point without a single goal – after two matches.After the match, Renard conceded it was a tough assignment: “We came for a win. Swaziland is not an easy team. I now understand why Togo lost. Swaziland played with good heart. We played well but not enough to win.”

Oh, so close! - Times of Swaziland

Like a good Chinese take away, Sihlangu were ‘delicious’ to force a draw against Zambia and keep the hopes of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup 2010 alive.

After yesterday’s tame goalless draw, which still leaves Swaziland looking down the rest in the pole position of Group 11, there is no iota of doubt even to the most patriotic Swazi that it will now take more than just gusts, courage, commitment, perfect game plan and luck to win the two away games – in Zambia on Sunday and against Togo in October.

To say Sihlangu can win both away games after so many flaws in their performance yesterday, which lacked the fizz and zest we saw against Togo, would be like applying for a membership of a doomsayer’s choir.

That, however, doesn’t change the fact that the nation’s pride is very much in it despite dropping two precious points at home.The fate of the nation now lies elsewhere – the result of the Togo/Zambia game though they would still need to get a win in any of the two away games.

Subdued atmosphere at Somhlolo National Stadium - Swazi Observer

IT was a subdued atmosphere at the Somhlolo National Stadium after the nation’s pride fell short of courage to settle for a goalless draw against Zambia.For obvious reasons, people were not sure whether or not to celebrate the end result as it still puts Sihlangu at the summit of the log standings in the group with Zambia and Togo.

Against the tough and disciplined Zambian side, it was always going to be difficult for Ephraem ‘Shakes’ Mashaba charges to get a result, no matter how committed his players were.Zambia kept their shape, kept possession nicely and stood firm in defence.

To their credit, Sihlangu’s defence, though constantly under pressure performed reasonably well, particularly left-back Raphael Ntimane and the two central defenders Zakhele Manyatsi and Sihawu Dlamini.Not even the first half pep talk from the country’s Prime Minister Themba Dlamini could work wonders for Sihlangu as goals proved as scarce as water in a desert.

Realistically, Sihlangu faces a mammoth task in the two remaining games but two away draws may just take the local squad to the next phase of the competition. Did I hear you say football is an unpredictable game? Damn right!

PRAISE FOR THE SWAZI KING

A lot of people in Swaziland, including many who work for the media, believe that the kingdom gets a bad press overseas.

This isn’t the case. The truth is that hardly anything about Swaziland gets reported outside the borders of the kingdom. This is, I think, because Swaziland has little or no strategic importance in the world. There are no important seaports or airstrips here, and there is no mineral wealth to speak of to interest international companies. The outside world is just not interested.

What gets people in Swaziland excited about the overseas’ media is the way they report on King Mswati III.

There is a belief that the media are always writing about the king’s lavish lifestyle (wives, cars, private jet) and comparing it to the 70 percent of the Swazi population who live in abject poverty.

Although it is true that sometimes there are reports like that about the King, most reports (and I repeat here there aren’t many in total) are very favourable to the King. They are usually about the King travelling to some country or other to try to drum up business for Swaziland.

I was reminded that King Mswati III mostly gets a ‘good press’ abroad by an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the weekend (15 June 2008) about the King’s recent holiday to Cebu.

The newspaper reports that the ‘handsome king’ arrived in ‘his private jet to spend a holiday at Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa […] With him was his 13th wife Queen Lankhambule, their two little princesses, other royal relations and high dignitaries of their court.’

The Inquirer continued, ‘Cebu Governor Gwedolyn Garcia hosted a luncheon in their honor at Shangri-La’s Ocean Pavilion.’ (A raisin company sponsored the luncheon.)

To give its readers some background to the King, the Inquirer advised, ‘It helps to have read Veronica MacLean’s book “Crowned Heads” to understand the history and culture of Swaziland. She met the handsome King Mswati III when he was 21 and already had four wives. He is 40 now. The king’s fertility is of national concern in Swaziland as it reflects or helps attain the country’s prosperity.’

The Cebu Governor presented the King with many gifts ‘including shawls and pearl jewelry for his queen, made by Carmen Campbell’.

The Inquirer reporter continued, ‘Sam Costanilla hosted a program of songs and dances choreographed by Junjet Primor. The year-old princess at our table began to protest until her bejeweled nanny got the message, and turned her chair around to give her a view of the show. There was shopping time for the Swaziland royals at SM City Cebu, where they headed for the Nokia and Levi’s shops.’

Acqua’s chef de Cusine Marc Martinez prepared a fabulous menu consisting of seared slab of salmon with raisins and ‘agro-dolce’ sauce drizzled with powdered toasted almonds.


To read the full report click here.

See also
HOW FOREIGN MEDIA SEE SWAZILAND
AFRICA’S VIEW OF SWAZILAND