Alert / Media Alert

Head of State-owned newspaper group vows to block pro-democracy voices

MISA-Swaziland Alert
15 January 2013

Managing Director of the state-owned Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, Alpheous Nxumalo, has vowed not to allow any pro-democracy voices to be published in his stable and has further accused other media practitioners in Swaziland of undermining the country’s institutions, the monarchy being one.

The newspaper group publishes the Swazi Observer and Weekend Observer.

In a scathing column titled ‘The Diplomat’ and published in the Swazi Observer of Friday, 11 January 2013, Nxumalo claimed the media in Swaziland were being used to “attack the government and other subordinate institutions with impunities. This has all been done in the name of freedom of the press.”

King Mswati III, Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has ruled Swaziland since 1986. His regime has fervently resisted efforts towards democratization and although the country’s Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, political parties are banned and mass action is often met with violence.

“It is absolutely true that most of the so-called democracy activists find it ‘democratic’ to insult the heads of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland. It is preposterous and fallacious,” Nxumalo wrote, going on to declare that he “will not submit to a mandate in contradiction with the mandate of the Swazi monarchy and its subsidiary institutions.”

In what may be considered a very controversial remark, Nxumalo also said he agreed with apartheid-era South Africa’s last president, F.W de Klerk that “all revolutionary forces sought to overthrow incumbent governments by mobilising the masses, by making countries ungovernable, by fermenting strikes, by involving churches, trade unions and civil society in their campaigns, by using propaganda to destroy the image and undermine the confidence of governments; by eliminating opposition through the use of terrorism and intimidation and by applying underhand and dirty political tactics to distract their perceived enemies.”

Reacting to Nxumalo’s column, editors from privately-owned media have asked the media manager to clarify his position and also provide evidence of which media organisations were hiding under the guise of freedom of the press to attack government.

Martin Dlamini, Managing Editor of the Times of Swaziland, has described Nxumalo’s column as “unfortunate” and demanded an apology should the latter fail to provide evidence of his claims.

“It’s very unfortunate that these allegations are made by a senior executive. They are unfounded as he failed to substantiate them. We demand him to substantiate them and provide us with evidence so that we can deal with the allegations. Failing this, we want him to issue an apology or we reserve the right to take further action because his allegations affect our credibility and business,” Dlamini said.

Editor of The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, said Nxumalo must name and shame “sponsored media” if he knows they exist. “He has to substantiate and clarify his allegations. I have no problem with him spelling out the editorial policy of his paper but I have a problem when he portrays himself as more patriotic than others,” Makhubu said.

Swaziland Solidarity Network chairman, Lucky Lukhele, has told some media outlets that self-censorship has become evident common in Swazi media. “We call journalists to join the fight for democratic freedom [as] Swaziland’s hope lies in true, independent journalism,” he is quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the Swaziland Chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) has criticised Nxumalo’s column and has insisted that freedom of expression is a human right which state-run media like the Observer group must facilitate for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizenry.

MISA-Swaziland has also written a letter to the chairperson of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, S’thofeni Ginindza, to register its “grave concerns” with Nxumalo’s column and allegations therein.

For more information, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

Email: misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

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