The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland has come under renewed criticism for its sensationalist journalism after it published a photograph of a blackmail victim and gave intimate details of her love life.
Under a headline ‘The naked truth’ it revealed that the former boyfriend of the woman had put nude pictures of her on Facebook and sent copies to her work colleagues and others who would know her.
The Times Sunday did not name the woman but did name her ex-boyfriend and published a photograph of the couple with their arms around each other. Although the newspaper put a black strip across the woman’s eyes she would be clearly identifiable to people who knew her and her ex-boyfriend. The newspaper also gave enough details of her place of work to make identification easy.
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, national director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter, in a statement to Swazi Media Commentary said, ‘It is wrong and it is obscene. We have a constitution that should protect against this sort of thing. Article 18 speaks of “protection from inhuman or degrading treatment”. In MISA’s view, the publication of the photo is in direct violation of the Swaziland Constitution.’
The ex-boyfriend told the Times Sunday his intention was to get the woman to pay him 9,000 British pounds – money he claimed she owed him. When she refused to pay, he published the photographs.
The ex-boyfriend told the paper said that by publishing the photographs, he wanted to make sure that his ex-girlfriend lost her job. He threatened that he would not stop spreading them until this happened.
‘He will not stop exposing her dirty linen until she paid the money,’ the newspaper said.
He told the newspaper, ‘I warned her of the consequences of going public. She did not care, so here we are now.’
The Times Sunday quoted an email the man had sent to his ex-girlfriend’s sister in which he said, ‘You have seen nothing yet. Days and weeks to come videos will be circulating in Swaziland and everywhere.’
By publishing his story, the Times Sunday in effect became an accessory to his blackmail.
This is not the first time the Times Sunday has been criticised for its sensationalist and misogynist reporting. In December 2012, readers boycotted the newspaper and complained to the paper’s advertisers after it published an article from one of its regular columnists that, among other criticisms, called women who leave their physically abusive partners ‘bitches’.
The Times of Swaziland’s reader’s representative, the ombudsman, dismissed the complaints and said the newspaper always followed the kingdom’s journalism codes of ethics.
But, clearly it does not. The latest report violates a number of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) code of conduct.
Article 5 is about ‘ Respect for Privacy and Human Dignity’ and it breaks down into five sections: (i) ‘Journalists should respect the right of the individual, privacy and human dignity; (ii) Inquiries and intrusions into a person’s private life can only be justified when done in the public interest; (iii) a journalist should guard against defamation, libel, slander and obscenity; (iv) a journalists shall avoid identifying the exact place of survivors in sexual offences;(v) a journalist shall seek consent of the survivor before taking pictures or conducting interviews with survivors of sexual offences.
If we substitute the word ‘blackmail’ for ‘sexual offences’, the Times breaks all five of the sections in Article 5.
The story has no public interest: it is basically a tale about two people who had a relationship that broke down and then disagreed about dispersal of their assets. The Times intrudes on many aspects of the woman’s private life for no other reason than dwell on the sexual allegations made by her ex-boyfriend.
The Times took the opportunity to turn an ordinary private matter into a public spectacle, drooling over naked pictures and descriptions of the couple’s sex lives.
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, of MISA, summed up the criticism of the Times, ‘The reason why this happens - obscene and unethical photos get published - is because there is a lot of repression and censorship when it comes to “real” and “hard” news, therefore the media has resorted to tabloid journalism, which thrives on scandals.
‘In other words, it is this soft and superficial news which is increasingly creeping into our media. MISA urges the Swazi media to be courageous enough to tackle issues which are in the public interest, rather than focusing on scandals and stories of insignificance.’
THE STATE OF SWAZI JOURNALISM, 2013