MISA-Swaziland letter to the Swazi Observer
By Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director
Monday 27 May, 2013
In his column IN THE BLUE CORNER (13/05/2013), Swazi Observer managing editor Mbongeni Mbingo branded MISA a brandy in a coke can; a throwback to the premier’s description of Sive Siyinqaba in the 1990s. Undeniably, The Nation is my brainchild. I cannot blame him for being blinded by perceived conflict of interest to the truth in our SO THIS IS DEMOCRACY?
It is a pity that the managing editor, who was ‘left appalled’ after reading it, elected to skirt around the main issues raised by the report. Yet he had promised his readers to open ‘this Pandora’s Box.’ Not only MISA has found the state of media freedom undesirable, but also Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. His failure to recognise that goes to show that he and his ilk underestimate the readers’ intelligence.
Thrown into a fit of anger by our revelation of complicity of media management with government and big business in media freedom violations, he has decided to tar MISA with the same brush as the progressives he accuses of pushing a certain agenda. I challenge him to unpack the report for the benefit of the readers rather than him spouting about faux injustices.
Without wasting column inches on cheap-politicking in this bad season of elections, mine is to dispel the wrong perceptions the Swazi Observer continues to create about our mandate. MISA is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) created by the Windhoek Declaration in 1991 endorsed by the United Nations. Our mission is to create an environment of media freedom that promotes independence, pluralism and diversity of views and opinions. An environment in which civil society is empowered to claim information and access to it as unalienable right and in which – the resultant freer information flow strengthens democracy by enabling more informed citizen participation.
To accomplish it, MISA strives to create and maintain a media environment in which there is transparency, accountability, independence, pluralism and diversity; to improve the skills base and professionalism among media workers; to promote and facilitate more effective use and access to the media by all sectors of society; to develop and maintain an environment conducive to relevant and effective advocacy campaigns on media freedom issues and violations on an international, regional and local basis; to deliver timely, comprehensive and accurate information on media freedom issues and violations; and to exercise its functions in a transparent manner with full participation of all stakeholders.
Our vision is of a Swaziland in which the media enjoy freedom of expression, independence from political, economic and commercial interests, pluralism of views and opinions. Members of society, individually or collectively, should be free to express themselves through the media of their choice without hindrance of any kind.
MISA insists on an environment characterised by a media that: (i) is free, independent, diverse and pluralistic; (ii) access to the media and information by all sectors of society; (iii) media workers who are competent, critical, accountable, sensitive to gender issues and aware of their responsibility to society; (iv) legislation, regulations and policy environments that support media independence, diversity and pluralism; and (v) citizens are empowered to claim information as a basic right.
MISA upholds values that seek to: (i) advance the aims and objectives of the Windhoek Declaration of 1991 and African Charter on Broadcasting of 2001; (ii) promote a self-reliant, non-partisan and independent media that informs, empowers, educates and entertains; (iii) nurture media freedom in an ethical, competent and professional media environment; (iv) strengthen and support the development of a vibrant and participatory media sector; (v) lobby for access to information in order to enhance transparency and citizen participation in government, judiciary and legislative issues; (vi) promote democracy, human rights, human dignity, freedom and non-discrimination; and (vii) advocate and advance gender equality to redress imbalances in the media and society.
In discharging his duties, one is guided by these fundamental principles. To the MISA fraternity, media freedom is non-negotiable. Our assessment of media freedom is based on nothing else but these principles. We work closely with all media workers in the country. Ours is to capacitate them so that they are able ‘to manoeuvre, survive, and prosper in this difficult media environment that might be likened to a minefield.’
I am afraid the managing editor’s memory seems to be playing tricks on him. On the contrary, it was going to be scandalous to mention the Media Complaints Commission (MCC) in our last year’s SO THIS IS DEMOCRACY because it only became operational in April 2013. His allegation that someone within MISA doesn’t really buy into the MCC is unfounded. MISA is supportive to all media bodies namely the MCC, Swaziland Editors’ Forum (SEF), Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) and Swaziland Press Club (SPC). Currently, MISA is housing the MCC Ombudsman and SPC Coordinator in its offices free of charge.
MISA assures its media partners that it is above politics of competing interests. Ours is to create an enabling media environment for them to enjoy media freedom without any hindrance. SNAJ, SEF, SPC and MCC must understand that MISA plays a complementary role. MISA is a defender of media freedom from the three seats of power – government, big business and media owners.
A managing editor worth his salt does not only double but triple check facts but one turns to wonder this one’s motives. Our report is replete with examples of manipulation, interference, censorship, assault, harassment and intimidation. In January 2013, Swazi Observer reporter, Eugene Dube, was attacked by a mob on line duty. MISA did not only issue a statement condemning the attack, but also visited him in hospital. MISA also praised the Swazi Observer Board of Directors for reinstating the suspended editors.
On World Press Freedom Day, MISA led a march of media workers and civil society members to deliver petitions on media freedom issues and violations to the ministers of information, communication and technology and justice and constitutional affairs. All that has gone unnoticed by the managing editor because ‘from where I stand… MISA fails to show its head where it sees there are problems…’
MISA has no problem with the forums, but is against their stage-managing and doling out of freebies. On the issue of sourcing stories from the social media, there is nowhere in the report where MISA discourages the media from doing it. Instead, we welcome the social media as a good platform that allows the people to enjoy unfettered free speech.
In the book The Responsibility of the Press, Irving Dillard describes an editor as a man of conscience. He recoils from the dishonest and abhors the untrue. Dillard warns “when an editor begins monkeying with his conscience, stretching his rule to shield his friends or to punish his enemies he is lost.” Above all else, he continues, ‘my editor knows talk is cheap and that only performance counts.’
In the Rhodes Journalism Review Issue 32 2012, Natasha Joseph’s plea to journalists: “We needed to turn the mirror around and look directly at ourselves… Self-reflection is hard, and maybe particularly so for people who spend their professional lives demanding reflection from others. The uncomfortable truth is that we need to talk about our industry honestly, but instead we are largely defensive and try to turn the conversation away from ourselves. Our behaviour must be above reproach. We need to talk honestly and openly about ethics.”
I draw inspiration from William Allen White’s words: ‘For freedom of the press –amid a world as threatened as ours – who among us can do less than try and try and then try again?’
For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director