This page has summaries of research projects undertaken by the Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland). Click on the title of the research project (e.g. ‘Democracy and Governance in the Swazi Press, 2011’) or on the link at the bottom of each summary to be directed to a full copy of the research paper.
With the advent of social media in Swaziland, young people have been afforded an opportunity to access, share and exchange information and ideas freely. This research project was spurred by the raging debate about the effects of social media on school performance, especially by the youth, ensued after the disastrous Swaziland Junior Certificate (JC) results in the beginning of 2012.
It examines the youth usage of the social media. It focuses mainly on the impact of the social media on their everyday lives. MISA Swaziland conducted a research to 100 young social media users aged between 10 and 24. They were drawn from the different four regions of the country. This study concludes that the young people use the social media for social networking and sharing information. This popular social activity among the youth has its own benefits and disadvantages. There is an urgent need to inculcate best practices of social media among the youth and teach them how to use it as a tool of learning.
By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)
This study sought to analyse the extent to which the Swazi press are able to encourage good governance and contribute to the realisation of democracy. Most reporting was found wanting. In the daily newspapers, the dominance of uncritical, event-based reporting that was over-reliant on government voices put the agenda-setting power firmly in the hands of the government. Further, the press’s inability to critique the King’s role in the country’s leadership put a huge cloak of silence over the central governance and democracy issue in Swaziland. The prevalence of superficial reporting shaped by government interests combined with self-censorship demonstrates that the press is doing little to effect governance and political matters.
However, the Nation and the opinion writers in the Times offer some hope. This study demonstrates that the Nation occupies an important place in the Swazi press. The Nation’s reporting was markedly more informative and analytical than the Times and Observer. The Nation was also the most vocal and critical about the political system and governance failures, even allowing some critique of the monarchy. And while the Times opinion writers did not discuss the monarchy, they were found to be very outspoken about governance failures and frequently argued for democracy.
This study brings to light three areas where media freedom advocates and the press itself need to do more:
- Empower the existing media to push the boundaries.
- Increase media freedom with legislation such as a freedom of information law, legal protection for whistle blowers and by testing the constitutional protection of freedom of expression in the courts.
- Encourage new independent media companies that would be willing to set their own agenda rather then reinforce the agenda of those in power.
By Dr Maxwell Mthembu, for the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)
The year under review has been fraught with many challenges for the mass media in Swaziland. Court orders were issued to try and censor the media, journalists were harassed and a newspaper was threatened with closure. Censorship of the media reared its ugly head when the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi ordered the privately-owned Times of Swaziland to stop publishing articles about him in the wake of a three-month long judicial crisis in the country, which saw lawyers boycotting the courts.
The media landscape still remains the same with no new entities being registered. The government has continued to fail in liberalising the airwaves. It has been several years now since the idea of liberalisation of the airwaves was first mooted. A proposed merger of the state-owned television and radio stations into a single public broadcaster are still far from being a reality.
The country’s fiscal challenges have resulted in a decision by the government of Swaziland to stop sponsoring students enrolled in the Journalism and Mass Communication programme at the University of Swaziland ostensibly because journalism is not one of its “priorities”. This in itself poses serious questions about the governments’ understanding of the role of the media in society. Furthermore, it reveals the breathtaking double-standards of a government that bemoans the state of the media in Swaziland but is reluctant to invest in the training of journalists and media practitioners.
Access to information still remains elusive in the Swazi context. Interference by the state and censorship of the mainstream media still persists. Electronic media still remains the exclusive domain of the state. This has resulted in the marginalization of many citizens who cannot afford any alternative mediums for accessing information. A decision by the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Princess Tsandzile (Dlamini), to ban access to information at the Deeds Office in the wake of a scandal involving the incumbent Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Ms. Lindiwe Dlamini, who sold Crown Land at reduced prices to other ministers, is cause for concern.
The Reality of Media Freedom in Swaziland, 2011
In 2011 freelance journalist Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, who is also National Director of MISA-Swaziland, completed a masters in media studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The full title of the study is ‘The reality of media freedom in Swaziland under the new constitutional dispensation’. Read on below for the introduction to the study, or click here to read the full document
Media freedom remains a hotly contested topic worldwide. This is evidenced by the competing understandings of media freedom. Authoritarian theorists advocate restrictions on media freedom. Liberal pluralists argue in favour of a media totally free from the state. Social responsibility theorists favour a socially responsive media in society. Political economists prefer a media system that is not just free from state control, but most importantly, free from the control of big business.
In Africa, the different understandings of media freedom have caused tension between the state, media, business and civil society. The state of media freedom is far from uniform throughout African countries. It varies from one African state to another even where the constitution guarantees freedom of the media.The parameters of media freedom in Africa are defined by the social, economic and political realities.
In Swaziland the passage of the Constitution in 2005 was characterised by both cheer and uncertainty within society in general and in particular the media. As it provides for a Bill of Rights, the media fraternity viewed it as a launch-pad for advancing the cause for media freedom. Uncertainty was later generated by the occasional failure by the state and business to recognise and respect the fundamental rights protected and guaranteed by the Constitution. Among media practitioners this raises the difficult question of how the freedom articulated in the Bill of Rights will be realised in practice.
This study sets out to determine whether or not media freedom exists in Swaziland under the constitutional dispensation. It applies content analysis of two leading daily newspapers to explore the extent of editorial freedom and also semi-structured interviews to access the views on the state of media freedom of the media practitioners, media management, government, civil society and legislators.
For purposes of document analysis, it audits the different laws, policies, code of ethics and international and regional human rights instruments that Swaziland has signed and ratified. The study concludes that there is still lack of media freedom in Swaziland under the new constitutional dispensation. Its significant finding is that the lack of media freedom is a consequence of constitutional, legal and extra-legal constraints. These constraints have bred widespread censorship, self-censorship and interference in the media houses.
Research by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)
12 April 2011 — On a day when pro-democracy protesters were taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers to call for democratic governance, the only independent newspaper in the country, the Times of Swaziland, managed to give government almost free reign to spread their propaganda and discredit the protesters.
Here is a breakdown of how the Times reported the protest. First we list what was said from the government, or traditionalist side, and second, we document was said from the protester, or progressive side.
Research by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)
The most positive feature of the HIV/AIDS coverage during this period was that no story perpetuated stereotypes about people living with HIV/AIDS or about the virus itself. In addition there were no photos of people living with HIV/AIDS that broke confidentiality.
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.
Fuelling the habit of single sourcing was the habit of giving event summaries, rather than full-bodied stories. A typical story about HIV/AIDS or that mentioned HIV/AIDS was a short summary of an event based on one source, giving no broader context and making no meaningful connections to relevant issues such as poverty and gender-based violence.
Research by MISA-Swaziland, funded by Save the Children (International)
Children and young people’s voices in Swaziland’s media are heard in only 8 percent of the stories that are about them, according to new research by Swaziland’s Media Institute of Southern Africa in partnership with child rights NGO Save the Children.
The country’s two daily newspapers, Times of Swaziland and Swazi Observer, both published Monday to Friday, were monitored by Swaziland’s Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) from May 22 to June 2, 2013.
The Times of Swaziland, during this period, published 42 stories about (or involving) children or young people.
Of those 42 stories about children/young people, only 3 stories (7%) included the voice a child/young person.
Therefore, in the Times of Swaziland from May 22–June 2, children/young people were heard in only 7% of the stories that are about them.
The Swazi Observer, from May 22–June 2, published 30 stories about (or involving) children/young people.
Of those 30 stories about children/young, only 3 stories (10%) included the voice of a child/young person.
Therefore, in theSwazi Observer, children/young people were heard in only 10% of the stories that are actually about them.
In total, when you combine the figures for both Times of Swaziland and Swazi Observer, from May 22–June 5, there were 72 stories about children/young people.
Of those 72 stories about children/young people, only 6 stories included the voice of a child/young person.
Therefore, for bothTimes of Swazilandand Swazi Observer, from May 22 to June 5, children/young people were heard in only 8% of the stories that are actually about them. Which means, in 92% of the stories about children/young people, the voice of a child/young person is absent.
Research by MISA-Swaziland, funded by Save the Children (Sweden)
Poor sourcing of stories remained a challenge though there was a slight reduction in the number of single or no source stories. This time single or no source stories accounted for 33% against 43% in the last study. It is important that newsrooms eliminate poorly sourced stories in order to ensure professionalism in journalism.
All stories were event-based and very few quoted laws, policies or statistics on children. For instance, on 1 June 2010 the Observer quoted the Minister for Health, Benedict Xaba, speaking about a government survey that revealed that school girls as young as 13 years had resorted to smoking. Whilst making reference to the survey, the newspaper could have done better by getting hold of the survey report and quoting from it as well instead of relying on the Minister’s speech only.
The Times, on the other hand, did well in a story published on 26 May 2010 in which about 30 primary school girls were given more than 20 lashes each for allegedly being in love relationships. The newspaper, though quoting an official referring to the Corporal Punishment Code for schools, did cite that the Code limits corporal punishment to five strokes for children. This, therefore, meant that the Sibuyeni Primary School that gave 20 lashes to each of the 30 pupils went against the code.
All children interviewed felt marginalised by the local media and wanted to see more content about children and by children across all media. This was also consistent with findings in the previous study, which means the local media has not done anything to meet the children’s expectations since the last study in September 2009.
Research by MISA-Swaziland, funded by Save the Children (Sweden)
The study revealed that:
- Children’s voices are mostly absent in Swaziland’s media. The electronic media, in particular, has marginalised children as there are hardly any programmes for children or hosted by young people.
- The typical children story in the print media was a basic event description. The stories displayed a lack of analysis, rarely citing policies, laws or statistics about children.
- Single-sourcing of stories has remained a major problem in the media.
- The majority of stories portrayed children as victims of poverty, hunger and in many cases the children were used as baits to solicit help.
By Dr Richard Rooney
This paper offers the results of a research project undertaken into the ethical standards of newspapers in the kingdom of Swaziland. In the first published research of its kind in Swaziland, the project takes as its starting point the assertion that journalists have a duty to promote and protect the rights of children. Journalists in Swaziland have created their own codes of conduct which include responsible reporting of issues involving minors, but a qualitative analysis of the Swazi Press reveals that journalists are failing to follow their own code of ethics.
Although Swazi journalists can take some of the blame for the lapse in ethical standards they are influenced by the circumstances prevailing in the kingdom in which they work. Swaziland is mired in corruption and dishonesty in public life is generally overlooked, so it is unsurprising that media practitioners reflect this in their own work.
One cannot also divorce the poor reporting of children from the more general weaknesses of journalism in Swaziland. A survey of the content of newspapers in Swaziland conducted by the media advocacy group MISA concluded, among other things, that there was a lack of diversity in the news, with the majority of reports poorly sourced, over relying on MPs and senators as voices while under representing women. News reports lacked depth of information and some reporting was unfair, failing to permit rejoinders from persons or groups who had an allegation laid against them.
By Dr Richard Rooney, for MISA-Swaziland
There is a long history of censorship of the media in Swaziland. Some of this censorship we know about because it has become public in some way. But there is suspicion that a lot of censorship is taking place that we do not know about.
There have been unsubstantiated reports about the existence of censorship, be it imposed or self-censorship, in newsrooms in the kingdom. Journalists themselves, when defending themselves in various forums against accusations of sub-standard journalism and lack of investigative journalism in Swazi media, have often complained of censorship in newsrooms.
This research project concludes that there is widespread censorship in newsrooms in Swaziland. It highlights seven main areas where this censorship is manifest.
A total of 16 media practitioners were interviewed and asked to identify how much censorship existed in Swaziland. They were then questioned about their own personal experiences of censorship.
The research offers both quantitative and qualitative evidence to support its conclusions.
The Swazi monarchy and the poor state of the Swazi economy are identified as the main causes of censorship in Swaziland.
By Dr Richard Rooney
This paper reports the findings of a research project undertaken in Swaziland (a small kingdom in southern Africa) that interrogates the way in which the press frames Muslims and Islam as a threat to the state and to ordinary people. It begins by analysing three recent stories regarding Muslims:
- The perception that Muslims were to blame for the changing of the Swaziland constitution.
- A report that Muslims were enticing university students to convert to Islam in return for scholarships.
- A public symposium run on the subject of Islam.
It concludes that Swazi newspapers frame Muslims as warlike people who are plotting against the kingdom and who pose a threat to Swazi culture. Islam is also depicted as a religion inferior to Christianity.
By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for MISA-Swaziland and the Media Monitoring Project, funded by OSISA
A typical political story in the Swazi media was a basic event description, reported by a male journalist, containing one male government source, and, if biased, favoured government. Coverage of government and political issues was largely superficial and uncritical and captured a limited range of views and voices.
The breadth of content in political coverage was limited. Important political issues such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and democracy were marginalized because political reporting was reactive, that is, it was largely determined by what government said or did. Most political stories were simple descriptions of government statements or activities. Thus rather than questioning the government’s agenda and trying to reshape it, the media’s political coverage generally reinforced the government’s agenda. The media across the board displayed a chronic lack of information and analysis.
The focus on describing events rather than examining issues was a key reason for this lack of information, as well as the over-reliance on single-sourced stories and the failure to research, ask the pertinent questions and contextualise
the story. Almost every instance of biased political reporting, regardless of the medium, favoured government. Single sourcing also proved to be the root cause of much of the unbalanced political reporting. The tendency to base stories on one government source increased the risk of biased reporting that favoured government.
Gender balance was sorely lacking in political coverage. Women’s voices were almost non-existent. Political stories were almost exclusively based on the voices and opinions of men.
The dominance of government voices also severely limited the diversity of views expressed in political reporting. Again, the habit of single-sourcing meant there was little effort to seek out the voices of ordinary citizens, expert analysts and those who might oppose the government view.
The media’s tendency to focus on government voices only was the key contributing factor to the amount of unethical reporting. Telling only the government view sometimes resulted in very subjective reporting where the media simply acted as a mouthpiece for government.
Comparing political coverage across the different media revealed that the best political reporting was found in the Times publications. Notably, the Times reporting had the least ethical violations and the least bias. And yet the Times is Master’s Voice 47 did fall short in many areas. Most obviously the Times did not sufficiently contextualise political stories, often failed to provide diverse voices and lacked depth of information and analysis.
Classic features of state media reporting were clearly evident in the political coverage of SBIS and Swazi TV. Most stories were very simplistic descriptions of government projects and policies, concentrating on the positive aspects with no critique or opposing comment. The Observer, too, had a tendency to focus on government views, avoid scrutiny and criticism of government and gave scant coverage of politically sensitive stories.
With such a chronic lack of diversity and context across all political coverage, the media failed to foster meaningful political debate and promote critical thinking about government and political issues.
By Dr Maxwell Mthembu, for MISA-Swaziland
The State has control over the two national broadcasters, Swazi TV and SBIS (radio). The playing field is still not level as there are no community radio stations neither are there privately owned radio stations save for the Christian radio station, the Voice of the Church which is a franchise of Transworld Radio.
One of the major hindrances regarding progress in many a sector in the Kingdom is that the political leaders are not at liberty to take decisions. Even implementation seems hard to come by due to fear that they could trample on the toes of their masters. This is one of the reasons that could be attributed to the delay in the implementation of the Information and Media Policy which would eventually pave the way for the liberalisation of the airwaves and the transformation of the state broadcasters into public service
Worthy of note is that the ministry of public service and information lacks capacity on media policy matters. This is a one factor that is hampering progress. The ministry needs a pragmatist to advise on media related issues. Without the required expertise the ministry is unlikely to come up with sound decisions on the necessary steps to take regarding numerous issues such as the transformation of the state broadcasters into public service entities.
There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to matters regarding the media in the country. Citizens do not have the necessary information on what the media are all about and how they function.
By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for MISA-Swaziland and GEMSA, funded by OSISA
This study is an analysis of Swaziland media’s coverage of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign and gender-based violence and child abuse that were published or broadcast during the campaign period.
The monitoring of gender-based violence and child abuse during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2006 has revealed considerable challenges for the media. It exposed a serious lack of ethical, fair, detailed, analytical and gender-aware reporting. This study demonstrates that the media is not doing enough to challenge gender stereotypes, raise public awareness of gender violence and child abuse, educate women on their rights and urge greater commitment and accountability from government in combating problems.
The findings also indicate that gender activists in Swaziland are struggling to make an impact. Gender prejudices, discrimination and stigma are pervasive. The fact that there was so little in-depth coverage of the campaign shows that gender activists and the media are failing to form strong partnerships.
Research by MISA-Swaziland and the Media Monitoring Project, funded by OSISA
The study was broken into several topics. The finding were as follows…
The ‘news diet’ (the variety of news content) is limited for two reasons:
- News content was dominated by one topic – national politics. The dominance of national politics prompts a pertinent question – is it the dominating topic because it ought to be, or is much of the political news being fed to journalists by government and, in fact, of little interest to the public? Unfortunately, analysing the nature of political reporting is outside the scope of this study. It is sufficient to note here that news content was for the most part political during this monitoring period and there were many issues that received very minimal coverage — poverty, economics, human rights, gender, HIV/AIDS — to name a few.
- The majority of news content originated from one region, Hhohho. This may be explained in part by the fact that politics dominated the news and Hhohho is the political hub. Although, this doesn’t fully explain the imbalance because the number of stories from Hhohho was over double the number of stories on politics. This lack of diversity in news origin may indicate that journalists are too heavily concentrated in the one region and not seeking news from the rest of the country.
There were two findings from the analysis of news quality that are cause for concern:
- The majority of stories were single-sourced.
- There was a serious lack of information with most stories containing just one of the six information criteria. These two elements combined – single sources and lack of information – results in news reporting that is of very poor quality. In addition to this, the lack of diversity among sources, with very few experts accessed, indicates the superficial nature of news information and lack of contextualising.
Monitoring gender aspects of the news revealed that women are underrepresented in the media. The marginal role women play raises two questions:
- Are women actively discouraged from pursuing news reporting?
- Is the lack of female news sources more a reflection of society or a reflection of the media’s failure to actively seek female sources?
There was a range of ethical violations taking place throughout the monitoring period. Almost half of these violations occurred in stories about child abuse or gender-based violence where the report failed to protect the victim and/or trivialised the event. This raises questions about the level of awareness among journalists of the need to report these issues responsibly and sensitively and, in particular, the standard of editing in the newspapers.
Fairness. The fact that there were 13 cases of unfair reporting in just two weeks is cause for serious concern. Unfair media coverage is extremely damaging not just to the subject, but to the media itself – bringing into question its integrity. Indeed, unfair reporting is often used by authorities to curtail freedom of expression and the right to access information. The monitoring revealed that the instances of unfair reporting can be reduced if journalists commit to seeking rejoinders from people who have a serious allegation laid against them, abstain from passing judgment on suspects and avoid damaging/demeaning language when writing about news subjects.
African Media Barometer (AMB), 2005-2009
A panel of media and civil society representatives assess the media landscape using an African-specific measurement system — the African Media Barometer (AMB). Results published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
2009: Freedom of expression and of the media are guaranteed in the Swaziland Constitution, which came into effect on 8 February 2006. However, the constitution includes claw-back clauses that take away the rights to free speech and assembly. In addition, the Constitution is not supported by complementary pieces of legislation. The country still has 32 restrictive laws scattered on its statute books. In addition, the government introduced in 2008 a new restrictive law – the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The law has already been used to scare people from speaking out. It was used in November 2008 to charge Mario Masuku, the president of the now banned political party, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), for speaking out in a public forum. During the same month, the Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini warned that journalists reporting critically of government would be viewed as terrorists. In June 2009, prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was arrested and charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, for expressing himself.
2007: There are still at least 32 pieces of legislation on the statute books that restrict freedom of expression and/or media freedom, many dating back to the pre-independence era. The Proscribed Publications Act 1968 gives the Minister of Information sole power to declare a publication “prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public morality or public health”. The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act 1968 criminalises the making of statements that “bring into hatred and contempt” the King, his heirs or successors; “raise discontent or disaffection” among the people of Swaziland and “promote feeling of ill-will and hostility” between different groups. The Books and Newspapers Act 1963 requires all print operators to be licensed and places a prohibitive cash bond of E15,000 (Emalangeni equals South African Rand) on entry into the print media industry. The Officials Secrets Act 1963 prohibits access to government-held information, except on approval by senior government officials. Efforts are under way to reform some of these laws. The Ministry of Public Service and Information has produced six draft bills, including the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Draft Bill 2007, which is meant to replace the Official Secrets Act. There is also the Books and Newspapers (Amendment) Draft Bill 2007. However, this amendment bill does not reduce the restrictive cash bond required of print media operators.
2005: Existing legislation suggests that the government does not seek to promote an environment which allows for a diverse media. In fact, most of the current media laws inhibit the development of a diverse media. For instance, The Swaziland Television Authority Act, 1983 entrenches the state’s monopoly over the television industry. The STVA Authority controls all television and broadcasting stations in Swaziland. It further controls the industry relating to sale and distribution of television receivers and associated equipment. The Authority regulates and controls the duration of broadcasting time and has the power to issue and withdraw licenses on such terms and conditions as the STVA Board may deem fit. The Books and Newspapers Act, 1963 makes it difficult for aspiring media owners, articularly Swazi entrepreneurs, to establish new newspapers. The bond amount to be deposited with the Registrar of Books and Newspapers as a pre-requisite for the operation of a print media house was only recently increased from E1 000 to the present E15 000. The media considered this prohibitive increase to be an effort by the government to frustrate media entrepreneurs, particularly local Swazi media practitioners, from venturing into the media business. The need for a cash bond is viewed as unjustified when insurance policies for professional indemnity are available to cater for alleged media misconduct.
Most Open & Secretive Government Institutions in Swaziland 2010-11
MISA-Swaziland investigated the level of openness in several government departments in 2010 and 2011
2011: Swaziland’s Constitution (2005), within the 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.Furthermore, there are no formal procedures 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 absence of freedom of assembly and association, even though guaranteed in the Constitution, there is an urgent need for free flow of information because presently political formations remained banned and cannot share information with the masses.
2010: From the findings, the researchers make the following conclusions:
- As in the last survey in 2009, Swaziland Government continues to run one of the secretive government institutions in the region. Because of their secretive nature, these government ministries make it difficult for the public to access information in the hands of government.
- The secrecy extends to the public institutions such as NERCHA and the Swaziland Electricity Company.
- All government ministries and public institutions surveyed had information in their websites that is irrelevant and non-informative.
- Swaziland urgently requires Access to Information legislation to force all public institutions to remain accountable to the public and release information at the right time to all citizens of Swaziland.
In this study it was discovered that all institutions share the same characteristic of depriving the citizens of Swaziland the Right to Information. For the year 2010, the Deputy Prime Mister’s Office proved to be very strict in releasing information, even accepting written request. Before reading what was entailed inside the letter, they wanted full details of the person who delivered the letter. It is very disturbing that the Ministry of Education has no information on the issue of Free Primary Education, nor any Act about it on their website. The government recently approved a policy on Education in Swaziland but such information is also not available.
Edited by Guy Berger, published by MISA
The Windhoek Declaration was agreed upon at a UN-sponsored seminar, ‘Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press’, held in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, in 1991. It was later endorsed by the UNESCO general conference.
The Declaration defines an independent press as that which is ‘independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals’.
And a pluralistic press is stated to ‘mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community’.
As the Internet has grown in more recent years, it would be fair to assume that ‘newspapers, magazines, and periodicals’ now encapsulates online news-sites and the various types of blogs that offer people access to information.
The Declaration further states that ‘the worldwide trend towards democracy and freedom of information and expression is a fundamental contribution to the fulfilment of human aspirations’.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Media in Africa: 20 years after the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom’:
In 1991, the Internet was almost unheard of in Africa. Very few people on the continent knew about cellphones, let alone had heard a range of ringtones interrupting a gathering. Back then, Nelson Mandela had not even been a year out of prison, and FW de Klerk was still the president of South Africa. No one at the time envisaged quite how badly Zimbabwe could turn out, let alone how Tunisian resistance would have a domino effect even beyond the African continent. Rwanda in 1991 was just another African state. Twenty years ago, it was not a case of African election results being violently disputed as has happened in Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire in recent years – elections were few and far between. And in that distant past, outlets for ethical journalism were but a dream. Most Africans were not just blighted by underdevelopment, but also severely malnourished in terms of quality information.
It was the wider social context that set both possibilities and parameters in the pre-Windhoek era. Prior to 1991, media development in most African countries was almost everywhere subjected to the whims of self-interested elites who had captured power for personal gain, using combinations of force and nationalism to do so.
To assess the 1991 Windhoek Declaration in terms of African media history requires recognising that this seminal document came from the hearts of journalists. Generally around the world, but in Sub-Saharan Africa especially, journalism is bound up with idealism.
This is notwithstanding the many persuasions and pressures that can lead its practitioners to fall short of the ideal. The desire to strive for the best applies to even the most constrained journalists, who – when they set aside any self-rationalisations – would invariably prefer to do the right thing journalistically.
To this end, they hunger to be free of distorting controls by government officials, politician owners or unscrupulous bosses. This idealistic motivation includes even the most underpaid reporter on a private outlet who persistently supplements his or her erratic income with bribes. It is also something which supercedes most other senses of identity that an African journalist may have, at least in terms of aspirations. It is central to the appeal of being a true journalist who works as a professional to serve the noble cause of circulating information in the public interest. It is this idealism that underpins the power of the Windhoek Declaration.
The journalists who drew up the Declaration set up a beacon that illuminates the goal of conveying stories for honourable reasons, rather than for the narrow pursuit of power, wealth or religious orientation. It is this objective that sustains most African journalists in the face of daily challenges to compromise and is often upheld at great personal cost.
More than 100 journalists in the region have paid the ultimate price since 1990, and many others have endured other serious hardships. The idealism that powers their work is not a Western concern, even if it is shared in much of the West. Instead, it is a universal driver of why people choose to become journalists in the first place. It transcends various national or continental journalisms (in the plural) – i.e. various cultural forms and traditions of journalism.
Although the record of some African media is serving as an instrument of power, disinformation and even hatred, the news workers in these outlets tend to operate with either a sense of shame or a disavowal of their identity as journalists. In contrast, legitimate journalism – even when partisan – retains an ethical conscience that respects the values of truth-telling and public interest, and subscribes to the need for all key interests to be represented fairly in the public sphere.
What then have been the prospects for coming closer to the Windhoek Declaration’s ideal of untarnished journalism in the past 20 years? The answer to this involves pinpointing what the limits have been, and what kinds of journalism have developed in relation to them. Two vantage points can be taken on this matter. On the one hand, for observers like Francis Nyamnjoh writing in 2005, there has been no real improvement in most of the continent. In his view, the “mediascape in Africa in the age of intensified globalization speaks more of continuity than change and more of exclusion than inclusion”.
In a similar vein, analyst CW Ogbondah wrote in 2002: “There is as much continuity as there is change in the current political situation in Africa.”
From such perspectives, instead of positive change building incrementally over the years, there has been a continuity of journalism being corrupted by state controls, business imperatives and the weaknesses of practitioners themselves. In addition, there is still ongoing self-censorship as well as sensationalised presentations of reality, and there is also journalism that has inflamed violent conflict.
A different, less fatalistic and more optimistic view, points to unprecedented pluralism over the period, even if there is not a utopia of diversity and quality of journalism. It highlights the journalism heroes and heroines who have exposed social ills without fear
or favour, and it recognises media that promoted peaceful resolutions of conflict. In this camp, writers like Charles C Okigbo and Festus Eribo wrote in 2004: “On the whole, most people in Africa were better off in 2001 than a decade earlier – albeit modestly – and most of them enjoyed the benefits of a freer – albeit not necessarily free – press.”
In the analysis provided later in this report, the trends over the whole two decades since the Windhoek Declaration tend to confirm this assessment, even though the immediate past decade has not sustained the initial progress.