Media Alert / Statement

Newspaper apologises after public outcry

MISA-Swaziland Statement
4 January 2013

The Times of Swaziland Sunday, a weekly tabloid, has apologised for publishing a photo of a naked diplomat and unethically revealing her identity.

The photo was published on 27 January 2013, accompanying a story about a London-based Swazi diplomat and her former Zimbabwean boyfriend. The former boyfriend – who has sent several naked and intimate photos of the diplomat to Swazi consulates around the world as well as posting the photos online – is blackmailing the diplomat because she allegedly owes him money.

In a statement issued last week, The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog the promotes freedom of speech, said: “It is not unreasonable to suggest that none of this [the story between the two former lovers] should have entered the public domain in the first place”.

But once the story and photo were published, and a person’s private life was unnecessarily being discussed and analysed in public, MISA-Swaziland chose to enter the debate.

Moreover, MISA joined the debate because the government had weighed into the saga, pointing out that the Times had overstepped the mark: rightly pointing out that the tabloid had breached its own code of ethics as well as violating the country’s Constitution, which should protect against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’.

MISA wrote a letter to the editor of Times Sunday, acknowledging the position of government – insofar as the offending story had indeed breached the media code and the nation’s supreme law.

The newspaper was “wrong to run the story and to publish the photo,” said MISA national director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo.

“The reason why this happens – unethical stories and 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 scandal. In other words, it is this soft and superficial news which is increasingly creeping into the media. MISA urges the Swazi media to be courageous enough to tackle issues in the public interest, rather than focusing on scandals and stories of insignificance.”

In response to the public’s displeasure and MISA’s letter, the Times Sunday in an editorial comment said: “Attempts were made to ensure that if children were to lay their eyes on the story, they would not see a stark naked woman, hence, blocking the vital parts, including her face. Clearly, these well-intentioned attempts failed – and for that, we apologise.”

The response went on to quote part of MISA-Swaziland’s letter. In doing so the newspaper indirectly admitted that repression and censorship are widespread in Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III since 1986, and this repression goes part of the way in explaining – though not excusing – why tasteless scandals and needless stories too often get published.

MISA-Swaziland applauds the editor’s apology and looks forward to an improved level of reporting, as well as extra consideration given to citizens and readers who might rely on the newspaper for reliable and ethical information. Only with trust – built through accurate, honest and fair reporting – can any media house hope to prosper in the long run.

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