15 January 2013

Swaziland: Editors Attack King's Newspaper Boss

The managing director of the state-owned Swazi Observer Newspaper Group has accused his colleagues in the media of undermining the country's authorities.

In a vague and contradictory opinion piece, Alpheous Nxumalo said "the media has been used as lilipads to attack the government and other subordinate institutions with impunities. This has all been done in the name of freedom of the press".

Later in the article, however, Nxumalo concedes that "that every human being has a right to think and rationalise for himself or herself".

The media boss is clearly upset with progressive voices in Swaziland, which has been ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III since 1986.

"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."

Nxumalo, head of the group that publishes the Swazi Observer and Weekend Observer, added that "freedom of the media should not be an instrument for unleashing insults and disrespect".

His sentiments are not unsurprising considering he works for a newspaper that is effectively owned by the king.

Nxumalo accuses the media of stirring discontent by airing the views of democratic activists, however he fails to mentions any names or organisations, rendering his article somewhat hollow.

Media editors have taken issue with Nxumalo, calling for him to clarify his opinion and to provide evidence to support his statements.

Martin Dlamini, managing editor of the Times of Swaziland, said "it's very unfortunate that these allegations are made by a senior executive. They are unfounded as he failed to substantiate them. We demand him to substantiate them and provide us with evidence so that we can deal with them. Failing we want him to issue an apology or we reserve the right to take further action because his allegations affect our credibility and business".

Editor of The Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu said "in the media there what is called name and shame them. If the Swazi Observer MD knows that there are sponsored media houses why he doesn't name and shame them. He has to substantiate and clarify his allegations. I've no problem with

him spelling out the editorial policy of his paper. But I've a problem when he portrays himself as more patriotic than others".

The media in Swaziland is heavily censored. Criticism of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is rarely heard in public.

From a freedom of expression standpoint Nxumalo makes several valid points. However once he had made a point he draws some dangerous conclusions, which would appear to be based more on ignorance than evidence.

The Swaziland chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media monitoring watchdog that promotes freedom of speech, believes the answer to bad speech is more and better speech. Whereas, it would seem Nxumalo would see the answer in the muzzling of speech.

MISA-Swaziland in response to the article has written a letter to the chairman of the Swaziland Group of Newspapers, asking for clarification. If a clarification is not forthcoming MISA reserves the right to seek legal recourse.


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