Media Alert / Report

MISA-Swaziland National Director’s AGM report 2012

The following report was presented by MISA-Swaziland National Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo at the Annual General Meeting, held at the Swaziland Theatre Club on Saturday 13 July, 2013.

Board of Trustees,
NGC Chairperson,
Members of the NGC,
EBC Deputy Chairman,
OSISA Programme Manager,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

INTRODUCTION

I request you all to stand up and observe a moment of silence following the sad departure of the publisher of our only SiSwati newspaper, Bonisile Mncina last year. This is a big blow to our quest for access to media to have an informed society.

As someone who jumped into a boat bobbing about on the choppy water, please bear with me where my operational report comes across as scanty and sketchy. If you find it too short, you must know that I’m too short to fit into the big shoes of my long-serving predecessor in the MISA Swaziland Office.  As I have already indicated, nothing much has really happened to change the bad picture he painted last year. You all know that we are still not yet out of the woods. The world economy is still in the process of recovery from the global economic meltdown. It therefore goes without saying that things are still pretty miserable in the NGO sector.

MISA Swaziland appears to veer towards the brink of collapse due to lack of resources, we need make a lot of sacrifices to advance the cause of freedom of expression and media freedom. The 60 percent budget cut on both operational and programmatic costs has worsened the dire situation. Staff morale is low because of job insecurity coupled with stress caused by uncertainty around the future. It becomes worse when at times the most loyal and hardworking employees are not even sure whether they will be paid their monthly salaries every quarter.

The most disturbing factor is that several donors and philanthropists consider Swaziland a middle-income country, and not a poor country, thereby diverting their eyes and money elsewhere. This frustrates our efforts to attract potential donors and philanthropists. Despite the plethora of challenges, MISA Swaziland continues to plod on. We will continue to knock on their doors with the hope that one day they will lend us their ears and hands to advance our just cause. Our task is to make them understand and appreciate the critical role of the media to foster development and democracy in every society.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION & RELATED CHALLENGES

Freedom of expression and media freedom in Swaziland is no different from chasing a mirage. MISA Swaziland has witnessed continued government’s stranglehold on the media. The manifestations of the stranglehold are nothing but the high incidence of media freedom violations. In the year under review, the government tightened its grip on both print and broadcast media. Minister of Information, Communications and Technology Winnie Magagula issued directives that were in complete violations of media freedom. During the state visit of Equatorial Guinean President Teodora Obiang Nguema Mbasago, the minister ordered the editors not to embarrass the monarchy by publishing negative stories about his guest. This was followed by the Guidelines on Public Service Announcements, which ban citizens from using the broadcast media without seeking approval from the authorities.

Worse still, the progressive movement found itself out in the cold as its members were blacklisted and the state-controlled broadcasters were banned from covering their activities. There was also a concerted effort to purge dissidents in the print media. The editor-in-chief of the Swazi Observer was the first victim as he was fired for giving a voice to the leaders of anti-government organisations. The axe also fell on two Swazi Observer editors who were allegedly accused of not following the original mandate of the paper.

Taking a cue from this brutal assault on media freedom, the uniformed forces and members of public attacked some journalists in their line of duty. Unfortunately, none of the attackers of the journalists, who committed a crime, were brought to book by the law enforcement agency.

Inevitably, such violations of media freedom forced the media practitioners to cower and prefer to toe the line to play it safe.  No wonder the media fraternity kowtows unabashedly to the ruling elite. The Swazi media shy away from real important public issues and practise mainly press release journalism. Censorship and self-censorship, the antitheses of freedom of expression and media freedom, reign supreme.

RESOURCE MOBILISATION

In wake of the global economic meltdown, mobilisation of resources has become a top priority but at the same time the most stressful and daunting task. The UN Human Development Index classifies Swaziland a middle-income country. With donor fatigue leading to the eschewing of Swaziland, MISA-Swaziland has had to embark on an aggressive resource mobilisation exercise for survival. In 2012, MISA-Swaziland together with other local NGOs submitted a joint proposal of 75,000 Euros to CAFORD in Zimbabwe, which was unsuccessful. Another funding proposal submitted to the Open Society of Southern Africa (OSISA) was of $250, 753.85. It was successful but with an approved less budget of $74.625.82. Another unsuccessful proposal of $15, 000 was submitted to the Maputo-based Canadian Local Initiative Fund.

The OSISA grant was released in the October 2012 to support a number of programmes in line with its objectives. This particular grant caters for the following:

i. To enhance the organisation’s organisational capacity of MISA Swaziland to carry out a successful access to information campaign.

ii.         To build the capacity of the Swaziland Press Club as a platform for critical national debate.

iii.        To mount a successful access to information campaign that brings greater awareness on the importance of this law among various stakeholders, including parliamentarians and the broader Swazi citizens.

iv.        To mobilize civil society to support a campaign for the enactment of Access to Information legislation.

Another funding of E92 000 was sourced from the US Embassy in November 2012. This was for training the civil society groups on the development of media strategy. There was a general feeling in the local civil society groups, that their publicists lacked media strategy skills to communicate effectively their messages through the media. The newly appointed ND also visited the different media houses in bid to recruit membership.

STAFF COMPLEMENT

In the past year, MISA-Swaziland Office lost its ND. The ND’s contract expired and it was not renewed. As you all know, it is not easy to run efficiently an organisation when you are thin on the ground. Unfortunately, that was the case. The Office has failed to recruit the ICO replacement due to the ever-dwindling resources. It relied on an intern, Nomenzi Masuku, who did almost the entire work of the ICO until her own departure at the end of January 2013. A replacement for the former ND came on board late in August 2012. An Australian Volunteer International (AVI), Bill Snaddon, replaced Mary Ellen-Rogers in September 2012 as Communications and Research Officer. His core responsibility entails research, communications and the website. Those of you who are technology-savvy, you may be aware of the wonderful work on our website. With the release of the OSISA Grant in October, MISA Swaziland was able to recruit an advocacy officer whose critical responsibility is to take charge of our outreach media freedom programmes. Phakama Shili joined us in February this year. He brings a wealth of legal and human rights expertise from the Manzini-based Centre for Human Rights. We can now claim to have a winning team. Given your unwavering support we can steer our boat clear of the choppy water.

INDUCTION OF NATIONAL DIRECTOR

In the third week of November 2012, the new national director went to the Windhoek-based MISA-Regional Office for his induction on the organisational culture and operations. This happened three months after his recruitment. This was a three-day induction session where the MISA executive director and the all the MISA Regional staff from the different departments took the newly appointed ND through all the organisational culture and operations. This was helpful as the ND returned home understanding the bolts and nuts of the organisation and ready to implement its freedom of expression and media freedom mandate without fear or favour.

ISSUES BEFORE US: CENSORSHIP & PROFESSIONALISM

There seems to be no improvement in the Swazi media environment. In fact, it seems that each year it gets worse. As a result, 2012 was no different as all the media houses experienced insurmountable problems. Leading the pack was The Nation magazine together with its editor, who was hauled before court charged for contempt of court by the Chief Justice following articles published in 2009 and 2010. Hot on the heels was the major shake-up covered in the NGC chairman statement. Two journalists at the Times of Swaziland were assaulted in the line of duty. This goes to show that practising journalism in the country is not safe.

Moreover, censorship in all its forms continued to rear its ugly head. For example, Government dusted off the Guidelines on Public Service Announcement banning people irrespective of their status from using the state broadcasters. Media owners continued to compromise (at least now openly) the journalism professionalism. We, at MISA, remain concerned about the Times of Swaziland Managing Editor doubling as King’s Office Correspondent. What worries us more is the fact that as the only independent newspaper in the country, by association, the Times ME’s position becomes pliable to the authorities, thus compromising its independence to report without fear or favour. Unprofessional conduct was reported to MISA Swaziland of a journalist who was spying on others for police in the media houses. As a media watchdog, we won’t tire condemning such transgressions and exposing all those bringing the name of our profession into disrepute. Journalism is known to be a value-laden profession so we expect all media practitioners to abide with journalistic ethics and uphold true professionalism.

HIGHLIGHTS OF FLAGSHIP ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN IN YEAR UNDER REVIEW 

January – December 2012

Component 1: Media Freedom Monitoring and Research

1.1       Daily monitoring and reporting of media freedom violations

MISA Swaziland continued to monitor the media with the intention to identify daily occurrences of violations of media freedom. This is actually aimed at fostering the citizens’ freedoms of expression and the media. The organisation monitors committed violations with the intention to provide any form of assistance to the affected journalists and media houses dependent upon the availability of resources.

1.2       MISA Swaziland Alerts

In the year under review, recorded incidents which warranted issuance of media alerts totalled 11. These were a true reflection of the country’s hostile media environment.  Six of them were classified as censored; three were lawsuits; two were attacks and one positive. Ten of the media alerts made it risky and difficult for the journalists to carry out their duties. This was further compounded by the heavy censorship evidenced by the pulling off air a popular talk show programme and issuing of guidelines barring citizens from using the state broadcasters. Dissenting voices of members of the progressive movement were completely silenced as the state broadcasters blacklisted them.

1.3        Conduct evidence-based research & monitoring to support media freedom

Padlock Awards 2012

The Open Secrecy Research, an annual event, was conducted with the purpose to gauge access to public information. Its objectives are to:

i. Access the level of transparency in government and public institutions

ii. To determine the level of compliance with the provisions of the national Constitution

iii. To inform advocacy activities by MISA Swaziland around the campaign for enactment of ATI Act

iv. To recommend the implementation of strategies that help improve the level of transparency in government.

The research was conducted in the following six institutions:

i. Prime Minister’s Office
ii. Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology
iii. Ministry of Commerce and Trade
iv. Ministry of Tinkhundla and Development
v. Municipal Council of Mbabane
vi. His Majesty Correctional Services

MISA–Swaziland discovered that the studied institutions use one government website outlining the roles and activities and provides contact details. Its content was outdated and the government departments did not solicit the public input.

1.4        Press Freedom Awards – WPFD

World Press Freedom Day Celebrations

MISA-Swaziland joined the global media fraternity in the celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).  The 2012 WPFD theme was “Media freedom helping transform society.” It challenged both the media and civil society to build a well-informed society through the advancement of the constitutional right to freedom of expression and media freedom. The discussions turned spotlight on the endemic problems of information poverty caused mainly by lack of access to information in the public institutions, all forms of censorship in the newsrooms and lack of media freedom education done through outreach media programmes. Civil society also had its own fair share of blame with regards to its lack of activism.

In summary, the following issues emerged as battlegrounds: Access to information, self-censorship, media ownership, weak civil society and lack of activism. However, the launch of Media Complaints Commission (MCC) was most welcomed. This function was well attended as it was graced by the Director of Information and Media Development, Martin Dlamini, Secretary General UNESCO Mission, Hazel Zungu, who read the UNESCO Secretary General WPFD statement. MISA Swaziland celebrated this event with its media partners: the Swaziland Editors’ Forum (SEF), Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), and stakeholders including the civil society groups.

1.5        Self-regulatory Mechanism 

Operationalisation of MCC — to facilitate the operationalisation of the Media Complaints Commission (MCC)

After doing much of the preparatory work, MISA Swaziland welcomed the official launch of the Media Complaints Commission in February.  The launch itself was preceded by a training workshop conducted by Clement Daniels, Namibian Ombudsman, for the MCC Commissioners and media executives. A Board of Trustees was elected including chairman Musa Nhleko (SNAJ), and members, Jabu Matsebula (SEF), Nozipho Mabuza (Independent Publishers), Maxine Langwenya (Legal Adviser Swazi Observer), Siphiwo Masuku-Mabila (Times of Swaziland) and Michael Motsa (Press Ombudsman). Former Judge Thomas Masuku was appointed to chair the MCC. However, in the year under review the MCC was not operationalised.  This was mainly caused by the absence of the ombudsman in the office after Motsa got new employment at the European Union Office. MISA Swaziland offered to house the MCC and the newly formed Swaziland Press Club as its partners.

Component 2: Policy Advocacy Campaigns

2.1 Capacity-building for media practitioners

SADC Guidelines on media coverage of elections

In September 2012, the ND and NGC Chairperson attended an OSISA-funded seminar where SADC-member states adopted Guidelines on Media Coverage of Elections.  After the incorporation of the input of the delegates, the MISA Regional Office circulated them to MISA Chapters charged with the transposition of the Guidelines on Media Coverage of Elections into their respective countries. Early this year (2013), the ND arranged a meeting with the Chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to discuss partnership with the EBC as the key player. The office also submitted a proposal to the Canadian Local Initiative Fund for funding launch and transposition of the Guidelines on Media Coverage of Elections. All these efforts were futile, as the two organisations did not show any interest to support this project. However, MISA-Swaziland has partnered with human rights NGO, COSPE, and is now training journalists on the SADC election coverage guidelines. These practical trainings – funded by COSPE and facilitated by MISA – have so far proved worthwhile and meaningful. The trainings are cheap, easy to organise, and yield immediate outcomes. Three trainings have been held so far and 15 journalists have been trained. It is expected that 5 more trainings on the SADC election coverage guidelines will be held before the national election.

Training of Journalists

A total of 16 journalists from the different media houses attended a training workshop on child reporting organised by the Save Children at the Summerfield Hotel. MISA Swaziland also facilitated the attendance of three journalists from the print media to another training workshop on the mining and extraction industry held in Zambia. This was followed by a journalism summer school organised by OSISA held in Windhoek, Namibia. MISA noted with concern that other journalists ended up not attending because some editors could not release to attend fully sponsored training workshops outside the country. We would like to urge all editors to take full advantage of such free offers meant to improve standard of reporting in the newsrooms. Let those who release theirs share information on the training benefits with their counterparts. Let us copy the best practices from one another.

2.2 Access and Right to Information

True to the Swazi adage: “There is no hurry in Swaziland, lest you find yourself across the border,” the government had continued to drag its feet when it came to the enactment of Access to Information (ATI) Bill. This was much against MISA Swaziland’s efforts to lobby relevant people and using proper structures within government to push the ATI agenda.  As part of its policy advocacy, the organisation had opened up discussions with its line ministry and other important stakeholders about the need for the ATI legislation. One positive development was that a Task Team had been set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to look into the drafting of the ATI Bill.This presented MISA Swaziland with an opportunity to make a presentation to it, thus advocating for the enactment of the ATI legislation. This demonstrated that the PM had realised the great need to disseminate public information and the public should also share their views and concerns to ensure that government is responsive to the needs of the citizenry. MISA Swaziland pointed out the disadvantages of not having the ATI legislation. There was consensus about the importance of crafting such a law.

The organisation got another opportunity during its courtesy visit to the ICT Minister Winnie Magagula. The MISA NGC delegation led by Chairperson Alec Lushaba raised the issue of enacting the ATI to the minister. To keep this on the radar, the organisation had decided to collaborate with the ICT Parliamentary Portfolio Committee. In addition, the organisation had resolved to mobilise other stakeholders to put more pressure on the relevant ministries to draft the ATI. There was hope that the government could end up using a draft of the ATI legislation crafted by a MISA consultant. The ICT Ministry was the one delaying the process because it was now sitting on the draft of the ATI legislation.

2.2 Media Law

Swaziland Communications Bill 2010 & Electronic Communications Bill 2009

Finally, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Winnie Magagula did the honourable tabling in Parliament the much-awaited Communications Bills aimed at solving the perennial problems in the country’s communications industry. The two bills were the Swaziland Communications Bill 2010 and Electronic Communication Bill 2009. The former seeks, among other things, to establish the Swaziland Communications Commission, which will regulate and supervise the operations of the telecommunications industry. The latter seeks to regulate the electronic communication networks. Both bills were passed in the House of Assembly and House of Senate. MISA welcomes the passing of the two Bills into laws this year. We strongly believe the Swaziland Communications Act will address the protracted legal battle between the telecom giants Swazi MTN and Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC). We are concerned that last year this saga deprived 64 000 SPTC subscribers of communications services.

Component 3: Communication, Dissemination & Publication Strategy

Partnerships and Collaboration with other media entities

When all organisations are vying for a slice of a shrinking cake, real or perceived competing interests are bound to affect their long established working relationships. Not only that, but also misunderstanding and misrepresentation of each other’s mandate also strained relations. MISA Swaziland counts itself very lucky that its partnerships and collaboration with other media entities still exist under the circumstances. As a way of renewing and maintaining partnerships with the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), Swaziland Editors’ Forum (SEF), Swaziland Press Club (SPC) and media owners, the incumbent ND embarked on a vusela mission. The ND visited all the media houses, meeting journalists and management separately. The partners felt free to ask any questions and express concerns about the operations of the media non-governmental organisation. The ND collected this information with the intention of forging strong partnerships. Assurance was given to our partners that MISA Swaziland is not a competitor, but a watchdog charged to empower them to discharge their public service duties in a professional and competent manner. By the same token, MISA Swaziland will not spare them when playing its watchdog role. In a show of support, editors continue to release journalists for training programmes coordinated by the organisation.

ICTs for communication

Since the revamp of our MISA Swaziland website, I have noticed that ICTs for communication – particularly Facebook, Twitter, Skype etc., – are seldom used as a communication tool by some of our members, partners and stakeholders. Nowadays, technology has made life a lot easier, meaning that we can enjoy our constitutional right to freedom of expression and media freedom without looking over our shoulders. Let us now talk, debate and mobilise without attracting the unnecessary attention of the uniformed forces. You can now follow us on our revamped website: misaswaziland.com. We now have our own Twitter and Facebook pages courtesy of Bill Snaddon and Phakama Shili. Send us your comments on our alerts and articles. Lest I forget, we also have our eForum where we are giving a voice to the voiceless in the country, including the NGO sector and other civil society groups. Also, feel free to contribute articles to help us re-launch an online Asikhulume publication.

CONCLUSION

Difficult situations such as ours demand people with nimble minds. As we close this chapter and open a new one, I implore all of us to put together our nimble minds to see if we cannot overcome MISA Swaziland’s challenges. We need to be proactive, innovative and think outside the box to survive these turbulent times. The struggle for media freedom is not about chanting slogans but making sacrifices for a just cause.

We are not going to get freedom of expression and media freedom on a silver platter.

Respectfully submitted,
Vuyisile S. Hlatshwayo

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo
MISA-Swaziland National Director
Email: misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Click here to read MISA-Swaziland Chairman’s 2012 AGM report

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