The case of the Swaziland journalist dropped by the Times Sunday after writing homophobic
comments in his column draws attention to the need for newspapers to be honest
with their readers.
Some people are saying that the case of Qalakaliboli
Dlamini touches on his right to freedom of expression. Even the editor of the Times Sunday
Innocent Maphalala said as
much as he issued an apology
for publishing Qalakaliboli’s article after an
‘unprecedented’ number of complaints.
But, with Qalakaliboli, the issue is not about free
speech, it is about honest writing and telling the truth to readers.
Qalakaliboli was neither honest nor truthful.
1,500 words attacking homosexuals,
language and proudly boasting that he was ‘homophobic’. He used examples from
the world around him in support of his case. But, the examples were misleading
at best and false at worst.
In support of his view that homosexuals are despised in
Africa, he wrote that the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, was to
speak at a symposium in the Catholic University of America. He said, students
at the university ‘ran riot’ and made it known that they did not want Tutu at
the university because of his support for gays.
there was no riot, but there was a petition signed by 784 people
against the visit. But, 16 times as many people (12,192) signed a counter
petition in favour of Tutu.
So, the vast majority of people signing petitions at the Catholic University were very
willing to listen to Tutu.
Qalakaliboli also wrote, ‘So, the proponents of
multiparty and democracy should not tell us the nonsense that we should
accommodate homosexuals because even in democratic country’s such as America,
homosexuality is still taboo to most.’
‘Taboo’ means something banned by society as unacceptable
and that is obviously not the case with homosexuality in America or developed
Perhaps, Qalakaliboli meant to say that Americans ‘disapprove’
of homosexuality. But the facts do not support even this. In this month (May
2012) alone a number of opinion polls
in the US show that the majority of
Americans support same-sex marriage. Any number of polls conducted for many
years past show Americans also support equal rights for gays and lesbians in
public policy areas such as employment, education, housing and health. Most
Americans do not disapprove of homosexuals. Qalakaliboli was misleading his
readers to say otherwise.
But, the most blatant misdirection of readers was the
entire premise for the article. Qalakaliboli told his readers that a new report
‘states that gay sex is on the increase in Swaziland’. He said that the report
found 324 gay men and he ‘got the shock of my life’, when he read this.
The report he refers to, the Swaziland Country
Report on Monitoring the Political on HIV AIDS, is not about gay sex. Nowhere
in the whole report does the word ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ occur.
Qalakaliboli needed to go through the report with a fine-tooth comb even to
find reference to his 324 men.
This he clearly did with relish in order to falsely
suggest that homosexuality might go ‘viral’ in Swaziland.
The report is actually a very sober account on HIV and
AIDS in Swaziland. The 324 men Qalakaliboli despises so much take up four
paragraphs of a report covering 91 pages. The 324 men are ‘men who have sex
with men’, which Qalakaliboli did not tell his readers does not necessarily make
The report makes it clear that this is the first time
such information has been collected, so Qalakaliboli is wrong when he writes
the report shows ‘gay sex is on the increase in Swaziland’.
So why should we care that Qalakaliboli is deliberately
misleading his readers? The simple answer is that journalists are expected by
their readers to tell them the truth. A certain trust needs to be established between
newspapers and readers, so readers can feel that they are not being manipulated.
This is especially important in Swaziland where ordinary people have limited
access to alternative sources of information.
Qalakaliboli and the Times
Sunday broke this trust.
The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ)
recognises the importance of trust. Article 1 of its code of ethical conduct
states, ‘The duty of every journalist
is to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend, the truth. A
journalist should make adequate inquiries, do cross-checking of facts in order
to provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive
information. The public must have unfettered access to all media.’
This discussion is not about Qalakaliboli's attitudes to homosexuality alone: he has form when it comes to telling his
readers falsehoods. One, of many examples, was when discussing
husband had the legal right to rape his wife. He said,
‘The British law makes it clear that there can never be marital rape in a
marriage unless both parties are separated or the court has issued an order forbidding
the husband from touching his wife.’ This is not true. Courts in England have ruled
a husband cannot force his wife to have sex since at least 1991.
In the past many Times Sunday readers complained to the newspaper and corrected him on a
number of articles. Some of these complaints were published by the Times either online or in the printed
newspaper, so Times' editors knew Qalakaliboli
was unreliable with the truth.
In his apology
to readers published last week the Times Sunday
editor Innocent Maphalala said he took ‘full responsibility for publication’ of
Qalakaliboli’s article. And so he should, but why did he let the article go in
the paper in the first place? His comments on gays were clearly in
contravention of Article 13 (hate speech) of the SNAJ code and there were
significant doubts from the past about Qalakaliboli’s ability to write
Following his suspension from the newspaper,
Qalakaliboli sent an email
to his editors
confirming his hatred of homosexuals and stating that he would be prepared to
launch an anti-homosexual campaign in Swaziland.
Qalakaliboli cannot claim he has been denied his right to
freedom of expression, now he has been dropped. His case is not about the right
to hold opinion, it is about deliberately lying to readers to advance his own agenda.
Some readers are expressing relief that Qalakaliboli will
no longer be allowed to write for the Times
Sunday, but dropping his column does not remove the responsibility of the
newspaper to ensure that all its writers are truthful.
Now, it is up to the editors at the Times to ensure in future they monitor the work of their
journalists more thoroughly so readers can feel confident they are not being manipulated
by them to advance their own purposes.
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