Speech by MISA director to Swazi civil society leaders

MISA-Swaziland Speech
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director
7 March 2013

Let me take this opportunity to welcome you all to this media-training workshop. The Swaziland chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa, as host of the training, is encouraged by your attendance and truly wishes to assist civil society leaders in getting their messages into the media and, therefore, into the minds and lives of Swazi citizens.

We wish to see civil society conveying their various viewpoints in a clear and rational manner, in a calm but impassioned way, so that ordinary Swazi citizens can understand what is at stake, and appreciate that a better life is possible.

MISA-Swaziland understands the difficulties faced by civil society in getting its messages into the media. We understand that the media is not as free, fair and balanced as we would like. We understand that words get twisted to suit certain agendas and we understand that some voices are simply suppressed. We also understand that none of these are reasons to give up.

As an NGO that supports all forms of freedom of expression, and in particular freedom of the media, MISA-Swaziland supports as many voices in the media as possible: government voices, civil society voices, citizens’ voices, business voices, royal voices, foreign voices, etc. etc. etc. – the list goes forever on.

What’s more, MISA-Swaziland supports approving voices as much as we support dissenting voices. We support the idea that people have the right to question and the right to be questioned; the right to criticise and the right to be criticised; and, if it happens, the right to offend and the right to be offended. Though we question the motives of someone who sets out to flatly offend.

Running alongside this, we support modern, realistic, proportionate and non-criminal libel and defamation laws. Yet we believe disclosure of information and news, in the public interest, should be the norm, and suppression and censorship should always be the very rare exception.

Moreover, in a constitutional democracy, people are free to dismiss and are also free to be dismissed. People are free to ignore while others are free to ignore you – this gets close to the essence of what freedom of speech is.

However, overall, it’s the debate that we want – the free exchange of views, arguments and ideas. This, we believe, is the starting point for a better country. This, the freedom to say what’s on your mind, without fear of reprisal, is what we want. This is the foundation – the bedrock – of a healthy, happy and prosperous society.

Now. It goes without saying that this is a big year. An election is looming, and the economy is faltering. Civil society members and leaders are more aware of this fact than many. MISA-Swaziland is not here to say what your messages should be, or whether you should take part in the election or not; MISA-Swaziland simply wants to see you get your messages into the media, as clearly and as concisely as possible.

We believe that, sometimes, with getting your messages into the media, less can be more. Which is not to say you should do less media, but rather, when you do engage with the media, keep your message short, sharp and to the point. “Stay on message,” as they say.

A good way of thinking about getting your message into the media is the ‘MBE method’.

M for message. B for because And E for example.

So, what is your Message?

Your message is important Because?

And what is an Example that supports your message?

Though not every interview of media statement should follow this method, I simply suggest it because the media are busy, and may not always be trained to the highest standards. If you keep your message short and simple, reporters may be more likely to report your views more accurately, without bias with less confusion.

All of this is about using the media to get through to the people you truly want to get through to: the ordinary Swazi citizen. And MISA understands that it will not always be easy, but this is no reason to lose hope. In fact, it is more reason to get creative with how you convey your various messages.

In summing up, MISA-Swaziland has become fond of a quote by former Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Michael Somare. It reads:

“Media freedom is my freedom. Media freedom is your freedom. Media freedom is our freedom. But with this freedom comes great responsibility.”

With this in mind, I do hope you find this workshop fruitful and that it assists in conveying your message to Swaziland and to the world.

This speech was delivered at Esibayeni Lodge in Swaziland on March 7 2013, to open a two-day MISA media training workshop for Swaziland’s civil society leaders.

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

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Broadcasting legislation enters Swazi parliament – good news or bad?

MISA-Swaziland Analysis
7 March 2013

Minister of information, communication and technology, Winnie Magagula, tabled the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2013 and the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2013 in the Senate on Wednesday 6 March.

The Bills are now expected be discussed by parliamentary committees who, it is understood, will seek consultation from anyone interested in the future of Swaziland television and radio.

The Swaziland Broadcasting Bill has five objectives. Notably, the Bill provides “for freedom of expression through broadcasting”. It also aims to regulate “sound and television” services and “provide for the maximum availability of broadcasting to the people through the three tier systems of public, commercial and community broadcasting services”. The Bill also aims to contribute to the “socio-economic development of society” and “nation building”, while “strengthening the spiritual and moral fibre” of the country.

The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) welcomes any move to liberalise the broadcasting sector. We also welcome any opportunity to engage with the minister of information, communication and technology on matters of broadcasting and media freedom. On the face of it, the Broadcasting Bill is an encouraging sign. However, on further consideration MISA would call for clarification on several points.

We ask how the broadcaster will strengthen the “spiritual and moral fibre” of the nation? We call for a precise definition of “spiritual and moral fibre” because the Bill is silent its meaning.

MISA is concerned that the “spiritual and moral firbe” objective might in reality clash with the “freedom of expression through broadcasting” objective. In other words, MISA is concerned that “spiritual and moral fibre” may be used to suppress legitimate questioning and criticism of the nation’s rich and powerful.

We call for either the removal of the “spiritual and moral fibre” objective, or, alternatively, we call for a precise definition that runs in spirit with universal notions of freedom of expression, namely, that all citizens are free to speak their mind on all forms of broadcasting.

Further, MISA requires clarification in regard to Part III, 27 (1)(a) of the Broadcasting Bill, under “Programming, Scheduling and Advertising”. The Bill here stipulates any organisation that holds a broadcasting license must broadcast “nothing… that shall offend against good taste, morality or decency or is likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder, or be offensive to public feeling, repugnant, or conducted in bad faith”.

MISA calls on the minister to define the following terms: “good taste”; “morality”; “decency”; “likely to incite crime or lead to disorder”; offensive to public feeling”; “repugnant”; and “conducted in bad faith”.

These are loaded words and terms with various meanings. They could be used in the name of media freedom just as much as they might be deployed in the name of repression and censorship. In the name of legal accountability, therefore, MISA calls on the government to define these words and terms in a manner consistent with Articles 23, 24, and 25 of the Swazi Constitution.

Article 23 provides for “protection of conscience or religion”. Article 24 provides for “protection of freedom of expression”, including “freedom of the press and other media”. And Article 25 offers protection of “freedom of assembly and association”.

Furthermore, in regard to the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2013, MISA calls for clarification on Part VII (43), under the heading “General”. This Article is titled “Powers of the King in a public emergency”.

In part, it reads: “Where there is in force a proclamation of a state of public emergency or threatened public emergency under the Constitution, the King may make an order authorising any officer of any authority to – (a) take over all broadcasting stations or any particular broadcasting station in Swaziland; and (b) control and direct all broadcasting services from the broadcasting stations or broadcasting station to which the provisions of paragraph (a) relate for so long as the King considers it expedient.”

MISA is unsettled at the extent to which this Article gives the king absolute power to take over all broadcasting in the nation. Common sense would acknowledge that in the event of a national disaster or violent conflict, the trusted political leaders should have easier access to some broadcasting media. But to give one person the opportunity to take unfettered control over all broadcast media seems somewhat extreme and, it might be said, counter-productive.

MISA calls for a clear definition of ‘public emergency’ and ‘threatened public emergency’; according to the Bill it is not clear what these terms mean. There is a fear that these terms, and this Article, could be used to further entrench the control already wielded by the state-owned and controlled broadcasters. Dictators in other parts of the world have used similar legal provisions to abuse power and take over the media.

Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, a well-known figure in Latin America, has tightened his grip on the media using a similar provision to the one outlined in the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill. The Economist, a London-based news and international affairs magazine, had this to say about Correa’s authoritarian tendencies in its February 9, 2013 edition.

“The president is intolerant of criticism. He has built a powerful government media empire, including two television networks seized from corrupt bankers. Like [the late Venezuelan leader] Mr Chávez and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández, he has abused a provision, intended for national emergencies, in which all television and radio stations are required to carry his broadcasts – no fewer than 1,365 of them between January 2007 and August 2012, according to Fundamedios, a media body. Freedom of expression is a “function of the state”, he claims. He has pursued criminal libel cases against critics, and is pushing to curb the powers of the media-freedom watchdog of the Organisation of American States.”

MISA suggests Swaziland’s leaders and legislators refrain from following the same dubious path as these Latin American countries.

The other Bill tabled in Swaziland’s Senate on 6 March 2013 is the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill.

On initial inspection the Corporation Bill intends to establish a body not dissimilar to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) – an organisation to emerge from the ashes of Apartheid South Africa’s and racist state broadcaster.

The SABC, which is called a ‘public broadcaster’ and in many ways is a public broadcaster, is still grappling today (19 years after the fall of Apartheid) with its role as a national broadcaster that should disseminate information in the public interest. Rarely a week goes by without allegations of state censorship or ‘shelving’ of inconvenient stories, or accusations of ‘orders from on high’ disallowing criticism of certain people or certain organisations.

This is said to illustrate the challenges ahead for Swaziland: converting the currently state-controlled broadcasters into a public broadcaster that serves and reflects the interests of the people is no easy task. It is, however, an achievable task.

In considering the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill, MISA calls on the minister to further define “public broadcaster” and “public broadcasting service”. As it stands, the Bill loosely defines “public broadcasting service” and there is seemingly no definition for “public broadcaster” or for “national public broadcaster”. There is time, though, for the minister to seek consultation, so before any vote a clearer Bill can be produced that will truly serve the public.

MISA-Swaziland is a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech and assists journalists to carry out their work.

For more information contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director
misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Suspended newspaper executive said to have misused funds

MISA-Swaziland Alert-update
28 February 2013

Media reports say Alpheous Nxumalo, the suspended managing director of the Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, allegedly misused funds during his tenure.

Chairperson of the Swazi Observer, Sthofeni Ginindza, suspended Nxumalo on 19 February 2013.

On Monday, 25 February 2013 the Times of Swaziland, a privately owned daily newspaper, reported that Nxumalo allegedly partook in “fraudulent practices and other acts of misconduct.” The newspaper quoted Ginindza as saying “the allegations [against Nxumalo] pertained to financial mismanagement”.

Nxumalo successfully obtained an interdict allowing him to return to work despite the board insisting that he would not be welcome at the newspaper group.

However, the Times of Swaziland reports that since the suspension, the managing director “was further required to hand over all company items, including all keys, computers, laptops, documents and any other item in his possession that belongs to the Swazi Observer.” It would also appear as if he is being denied access to company premises.

Nxumalo is accusing what he describes as a “politically-controlled” board of interference in his work, saying this is what has led to his suspension.

Earlier this year, he attracted much criticism after publishing a column in the Swazi Observer in which he accused the media and non-governmental organisations of undermining the authority of the Swazi government and the royal family.

“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,” he 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.”

The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) wrote a letter to the newspaper at the time, calling on Nxumalo to substantiate his claims.

The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers publishes the Swazi Observer (daily) and Weekend Observer(weekly)Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal conglomerate owned by King Mswati III in trust of the Swazi nation, owns the newspaper group.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Moves to merge Swaziland’s state-controlled broadcasters

MISA-Swaziland Alert
25 February 2013

Cabinet has approved draft legislation that intends to convert Swaziland’s two state-broadcasters into one national broadcaster, according to local media reports.

The Swazi Observer, a state-owned daily, says cabinet passed the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2012 and the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2010 on Thursday, 21 February 2013.

The Broadcasting Corporations Bill “is mainly for the establishment of… amalgamating the operations and resources of the two existing broadcasters,” says the Observer. The Corporation Bill, therefore, will provide the framework and funding from which the national broadcaster will begin operating, if passed by parliament.

Swaziland’s airwaves and television sets are heavily censored. The state-owned and controlled radio station, under the authority of Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS), and Swazi TV, under the Swaziland Television Authority (STVA), act as government departments and citizens need approval from their respective chiefs before speaking on radio.

In the media reports government spokesperson Percy Simelane is quoted as saying that the proposed broadcasting legislation seeks to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Swaziland; contribute to democracy, development of society, gender equality, nation building, and provision of education”.

Many commentators might question how a new national broadcasting corporation can contribute to democracy when democracy does not yet exist: political parties are banned, freedom of speech is strangled, and peaceful meetings are often interrupted by police who tell those gathered to move on.

The media report also says the legislation aims to “harmonise the broadcasting industry” while “strengthening the spiritual and moral fibre” of the nation.

The two Bills, if passed by parliament, are said to be ushering in a more open, fair and diverse broadcasting sector. The legislation, if passed and properly implemented, is “expected provide for maximum availability of broadcasting to the people through the three tier system of public, commercial and community broadcasting services”.  On the face of it, this three-tier plan is encouraging.

However, it is not yet clear whether any meaningful attempt will be made to actually convert the state-broadcasters into a genuine public-broadcaster. The concern is that the two state-owned and controlled broadcasters simply merge into one ‘super state-broadcaster’, in which case freedom of speech and choice will remain curtailed and limited.

The Swazi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) has been calling for the government to free up the airwaves for over a decade. Most recently MISA supported the Times of Swaziland’s push for more open broadcasting.

If this current move by government leads to a more diverse and truly public broadcaster (for TV and radio) then MISA-Swaziland will be encouraged. However, if the state continues to use the broadcaster as its exclusive domain, and continues to invoke notions of “spiritual and moral fibre” as an excuse to suppress speech, then MISA-Swaziland will continue calling for meaningful change.

No date has been set for two pieces of legislation to go before parliament for a vote.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Newspaper boss suspended, formerly suspended finance man takes over

MISA-Swaziland Alert
22 February 2013

Media reports say Alpheous Nxumalo, managing director of the State-owned Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, has been suspended.

The Swazi Observer, published by the Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, on Thursday, 21 February 2013 reported that the Board of Directors gave no reason for Nxumalo’s suspension, only saying more information would be forthcoming “pending investigation”.

In the media reports, the chairperson of the newspaper group, Sithofeni Ginindza, is quoted as saying “the board was working towards improving the newspapers’ operations”.

Nxumalo is said to have rushed to the High Court on hearing of his suspension, reportedly delivered to him by letter on Tuesday, 19 February 2013. He successfully obtained a court order allowing him to return to work.

“I was at work during the afternoon after I approached the High Court,” he told the Swazi Observer.

Nxumalo is accusing what he describes as a “politically-controlled” board of interference in his work, saying this is what has led to his suspension.

Meanwhile, Andreas Nkabinde, a former finance controller at the newspaper group has been appointed as acting managing director. Ironically, Nxumalo suspended him in July 2012 and gave no reasons for the suspension.

Earlier this year, Nxumalo attracted much criticism after he published a column in the Swazi Observer in which he accused the media and non-government organisations of undermining the authority of the Swazi government and the royal family.

“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,” he 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.”

The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) wrote a letter to the newspaper at the time, calling on Nxumalo to elaborate on his unfounded claims.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

African Commission meets to discuss Access to Information

MISA-Swaziland Statement
18 February 2013

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is currently discussing draft Access to Information legislation in Banjul, the capital of west-African country The Gambia, according to a University of Pretoria statement.

From 18 to 23 February the human rights commissioners will fine-tune the Model on Access to Information, a proposed piece of legislation (or ‘model legislation’) that the Commission has developed. The model legislation is expected to gain ACHPR approval at the current meeting in Banjul; at which point the Commission will urge its member states, including Swaziland, to implement the model and bring it into reality.

“Member States may elect to adopt this Model Law as it is or adapt it. They may adopt it as a whole or in part. Whatever the manner in which a State decides to utilise the Model Law, efforts must be made to ensure that in the process adoption or review of national legislation on access to information, the principles and objectives of the Model Law are observed to the utmost,” says ACHPR in its introduction to the draft law.

“It is only by adherence to the spirit and objective of this Model Law, that its potential to establish transparency, accountability and public participation in the decision-making process can be realised.”

The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech, commends the ACHPR’s efforts to shine a spotlight on access to information. In Swaziland, it is extremely difficult for the media and the public to access public information – information that is owned by the public, not the state, and therefore the public have a right to view it and then act upon it as they see fit.

Among the objectives of the model legislation reads: “to give effect to the right of access to information as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” specifically, “any information held by a public body or relevant private body” and “any information held by a private body that may assist in the exercise or protection of any right.”

In 2011 research on access to information MISA-Swaziland found that Swaziland’s Constitution, within its rights and freedoms provisions, guarantees and protects the right to freedom of information. However, the country does not have Access to Information legislation. This means that the government and public institutions are not obligated to disclose any information they hold.

The Official Secrets Act of 1961, for example, makes it difficult for the citizens and the media to access information held by government and public institutions. Moreover, there are no formal procedures, or weak procedures at best, for accessing information, nor are there known mechanisms in place to appeal against any government official who, on his own, decides not to disclose information.

In the accompanying report to the model legislation, the ACHPR says:  “Access to information is of growing international and regional concern, and is a topic on which African States are increasingly undertaking legislative reform. Properly implemented access to information legislation holds the promise of fostering good governance by improving information management, and by enhancing transparency, accountability and greater participation of persons in public affairs.

“By exposing corruption and mismanagement of resources, increased transparency is likely to lead to improvements in the enjoyment of socio-economic rights and to contribute to the eradication of under-development on the continent…

“Once adopted by the ACHPR, it is expected that the Model Law will guide Member States in their adoption or review of access to information laws, and provide uniform benchmarks for evaluating their effective implementation.”

MISA-Swaziland, in its renewed push to advocate for credible and enforceable Access to Information legislation, welcomes the ACHPR move. We look forward to engaging Swazi citizens, civil society, and leaders in the new parliament after elections later this year, to craft and pass local legislation.

The model legislation was initially presented to the ACHPR during its 52nd Ordinary Session last October in Yamoussouro, capital of west-African country Ivory Coast.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Police clampdown pro-democracy meeting

MISA-Swaziland Analysis
18 February 2013

It was billed as a peaceful, pro-democracy prayer, organised by the Swaziland United Democracy Front and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. It was to take place on Saturday morning, 16 February 2013 at a Catholic meeting hall in Manzini, the commercial capital of Swaziland, a small kingdom wedged between South Africa and Mozambique in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first paragraph of the invitation to the event, under the title, ‘The Call for a National Prayer Towards a People`s Government’, reads:

“The Leadership of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), together with the Detachment of activists under the auspices of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), is humbled to invite every Swazi to a “National Prayer For A People`s Government” [sic].”

The letter continues: “As the year is still dawning, we deemed it fit to make a call to the God of the poor, down trodden and marginalized masses of our motherland to help us realize a government that will be owned and run by ourselves as a people and a nation.”

The invitation goes on to describe the prayer as the launch of a campaign to usher in democracy to Swaziland. There was no mention of inciting violence in the letter. It is signed, ‘Yours in the struggle for a democratic Swaziland’, above the names Wandile Dludlu [PUDEMO member and SUDF coordinator] and Mary Da Silva [SUDF coordinator].

According to reports in the Times of Swaziland Sunday, a privately owned but heavily censored weekend tabloid, the meeting was a nonstarter as police arrived on the scene during formalities, just after 9 am, saying attendees had seven minutes to disperse. The Swazi chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog, arrived at the Bosco Skills Centre, a Catholic-run meeting hall, at 10.30 am, an hour after proceedings were meant to start, only to find an empty hall guarded by 40 police officers, many out of uniform. A group of police was seen sitting on a log under a small tree on top of a nearby hill in the shade of the morning heat, guns perched on laps, chatting and smiling.

On the mountainous drive into Manzini, 35 kilometers southeast of the capital Mbabane, police were casually patrolling the outskirts, armed with guns and batons, dressed in the navy blue of the Royal Swaziland Police Force. Many looked uncomfortable holding their weapons. Many looked unable to chase a thief if the need arose.

“They don’t have the authority to meet”, came the response from a plain-clothed policeman guarding the Bosco centre when MISA-Swaziland asked why no meeting was taking place. The pro-democracy gatherers had been told to go home. It wasn’t made clear which law the police had invoked to disperse the crowd, and any law that was invoked would seem to clash with Section 25 (1) of the Swazi Constitution: “A person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

One of the headlines in Times Sunday on 17 February read, ‘Cops stop prayer for peace’. On the front page of Swazi Observer (a propaganda daily effectively owned by king, ruler since 1986) on February 18 2013 reads, ‘Prayer was to plan election sabotage’.

In possible explanation of the police clampdown, several of the organisers of the pro-democracy meeting are part of the Peoples United Movement for Democracy (PUDEMO), a banned political party. PUDEMO members were accused of a spate of bomb attacks several years ago, and this led to recent official fear of their meetings. In the past police have invoked the Public Order Act 1963 to break up meetings and spy on meetings involving PUDEMO members and other people involved in opposition politics.

And in 2008 the Suppression of Terrorism Act was introduced, giving further power to police and politicians who wish to disallow public meetings and free association. Amnesty International released a report in 2009, An Atmosphere of Intimidation: Counter-terrorism legislation used to silence dissent in Swaziland. The report found that the Suppression of Terrorism Act “has been successful in creating a climate of fear. All those who were vocal are quieter now because of the Act”.

In attendance at the meeting last Saturday was Bishop Paul Verryn, from Johannesburg, South Africa. According to reports in the Times Sunday Bishop Verryn was at the pro democracy prayer representing the South African Council of Churches.

“We have been profoundly disrespected by the police that in the middle of a prayer they came in and stopped us,” Times Sunday reported the Bishop as saying. “If the authorities are afraid of a simple prayer hosted by citizens of the country, then we cannot say Swaziland is a free country.” Verryn said he would report the story of police intimidation back to South Africa’s church leaders.

Also among the attendees was PUDEMO president Mario Masuku. PUDEMO released a statement after the police lock down, labeling the actions of authorities as “satanic”. The statement, according to local media reports, describes PUDEMO’s version of events, and details how police continued to harass the pro-democracy activists at Manzini’s Catholic Cathedral, where the activists sought shelter after they were told to leave the Bosco centre.

“PUDEMO condemns the devilish and satanic behaviour of the Swaziland Police of invading the Manzini Roman Catholic Church (The Cathedral) in pursuit of innocent and unarmed citizens who had gathered to pray for justice, peace and democratic change in the country… The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) had organised the prayer gathering at St John Bosco Hall, a facility belonging to the [Catholic Church] but we the people were refused entry and were forcefully removed from the place… After this forceful eviction, the people found shelter at The Cathedral, hiding from the pursuing police who were dressed for war. The fully armed police entered the church premises and disturbed those gathering in prayer while refusing others to gain entry to the church.”

As the Catholic Church continues its search for a new pope, it might hazard a glance in the direction of a small kingdom in southern Africa, choking under the weight of state-condoned suppression and official neglect. The new pope might spare a few seconds to learn how HIV has wiped out generations and towns in this landlocked nation of good-humored and resilient people. The new pope might also learn how Swazi life expectancy has dropped from 60 in the 1990s to 31 in 2007. Censorship in the media is getting worse and uncertainty among Swazis grows by the day.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

TV authority Chairperson fired, no reason given

MISA-Swaziland Alert
14 February 2013

Reports from Mbabane say Dr. Maxwell Mthembu, Chairperson of the Swaziland Television Authority (STVA) has been fired. It appears no reason for the dismissal has been given.

Mthembu, a Journalism and Mass Communication lecturer at the University of Swaziland, confirmed to the Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) that he received a letter outlining his dismissal on January 25, 2013 but no specific reason has been given.

He is also a former chairperson of MISA-Swaziland.

STVA is responsible for regulating the country’s electronic media. Swazi-TV, which falls under STVA is heavily censored and is widely viewed as a propaganda mouthpiece for government and the royal family.

It is understood that the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) is responsible for the appointment of the STVA chairperson but can remove the appointee at any time and is not required by law to provide a reason. The minister currently holding the portfolio is Winnie Magagula.

According to Mthembu, the letter from the minister invoked the Public Enterprises Unit Act of 1989. He also pointed out that although the dismissal was unexpected, he would have appreciated if the minister had called him directly and give a reason.

Swazi-TV Chief Executive Officer, Bongani Dlamini, said only Magagula could comment on this matter. However, Magagula was unavailable for comment.

Principal secretary in the ministry of communications, Sikelela Dlamini, told MISA-Swaziland that while Magagula was the best person to speak to, “the Act doesn’t require the minister to give a reason”. It was not immediately clear whether Dlamini was referring to the STVA Act of 1983 or the Public Enterprise Unit Act of 1989.

MISA-Swaziland is concerned that the chairperson of the state-broadcaster – which many believe should be converted into a public broadcaster – can be dismissed without reason. MISA-Swaziland further calls on minister Magagula to cite the relevant Act, specify the exact article she invoked and give convincing reasons for the Mthembu’s dismissal.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Newspaper criticised over misleading HIV reporting

MISA-Swaziland Analysis
11 February 2013

Dr Nduduzo Dube, program manager at Swaziland’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has written a stinging letter to the Times of Swaziland about its false and sensationalist reporting of HIV and AIDS stories.

“I have always noted the negativity with which the local press has handled all the matters that border around the provision of health services in the country,” said Dube in a letter published by the Times’ weekend tabloid Times of Swaziland Sunday.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation partners with the Ministry of Health and the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) programme in providing treatment and services to people living with HIV.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “standard antiretroviral therapy … consists of the combination of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease”.

Dube questions why, in the past, the Times Sunday reported that the country had ran out of ART medication, when, according to Dube, stocks were simply low.

“Instead of reporting low stocks, someone would choose to report stock-outs.

“There is always a tendency to sensationalise all the reports concerning HIV services in the country thereby causing unnecessary alarm and despondency in the [ART] programme.”

Dube says the Times Sunday unnecessarily criticises the programme and, in doing so, alienates people living with HIV.

He emphasises, however, that his letter is not an attempt to close down debate on HIV and AIDS. Rather, he calls for accurate and fair reporting – insofar as not further stigmatising people living HIV, and so people who need to take medication are not scared by panic-driven, sensationalist journalism.

“I am not saying you should not report about the shortcomings of the programme but please try to avoid unnecessary alarm that might result in detrimental outcomes like patients stopping to take their medication unnecessarily.”

Dube was prompted to write the letter after the Times Sunday recently ran a front-page story about supposedly fatal ART medication. The headline read: “Deadly ARVs for Swazis.”

“While reading the story”, said Dube, “I was looking forward to the writer explaining how the drug is likely to cause death. However, in the story he spoke about its side effects on the nerves, change in body shape and potential of causing diabetes.”

He continued: “How is damage to the nerves on the feet and hands making the drug deadly? The writer, instead of writing facts about why the drug was phased out which includes the long-term side effects of abnormal fat distribution leading to changes in body shape which is rarely associated with diabetes, spoke about damage to the nerves but failed to connect that to fatality.”

Replying to the letter, the editor of Times Sunday said: “We may not all be doctors but understand that Diabetes IS [sic] a deadly condition. This assertion is supported by various medical research journals and reviews … A person with diabetes has a shorter life expectancy and about twice the risk of dying on any given day as a person of similar age without diabetes. Stavudile (the ART medication at the centre of the debate) is likely to cause diabetes in some patients.”

In further response to Dr Dube, the editor writes: “Otherwise, thank you very much for writing in. Your criticism and valuable information on this topic is very helpful.”

The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech, conducted research in 2010 on how the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers (including the weekday publication Times of Swaziland, Saturday’s Swazi News, and Times of Swaziland Sunday) reports on HIV and AIDS stories. On a positive note, the study found that no story (that was analysed over the month-long monitoring period) perpetuated negative stereotypes of people living with HIV.

However, “the most staggering aspect of the HIV/AIDS reporting was the complete absence of people affected by HIV/AIDS and the voices of people living with HIV/AIDS.

“The absence of these critical voices was coupled with the habit of single sourcing. Nearly two out of three stories had only one source. Where stories warranted the inclusion of sources living with HIV/AIDS or those affected by HIV/AIDS, they were not there.”

MISA-Swaziland notes that not much has changed since 2010. Reporting on HIV and AIDS remains shallow and misleading. Stories focus on ‘events’ and ‘programme launches’ rather than the people in the middle of the story, the human face – the heartbeat. There is no doubt that reporting on HIV and AIDS in Swaziland could be more accurate and more humane.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz

Magistrate supports journalists’ right to information

MISA-Swaziland Alert
8 February 2013

A magistrate in Swaziland has come to the defence of journalists after they were denied access to court documents.

In a Times of Swaziland news article published on Thursday, 7 February 2013, an unnamed journalist reported that “Magistrate Dumisani Mazibuko came to the rescue of journalists when he openly reprimanded a court clerk for refusing scribes access to charge sheets”.

The report quotes Magistrate Mazibuko: “As long as court proceedings are not disrupted, journalists are entitled to charge sheets which they have to get while still in court for accuracy in all stories they are writing.”

The incident occurred at the Manzini courthouse on Wednesday, 6 February 2013.

The Swaziland chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) notes that despite freedom of speech facing severe challenges in the country, such as endemic censorship and stringent state controls on the media, this small act by a member of the judiciary offers hope. It also demonstrates that media freedom is more than words in a Constitution, it is the unwavering insistence that journalists and the public at large have a right to public information.

MISA-Swaziland appeals to the whole judiciary to emulate magistrate Mazibuko.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

misa.nd@realnet.co.sz