Thursday, March 19, 2020

Media standards in Swaziland poor, need for wide-ranging reforms, report states

The media in Swaziland (eSwatini) need wide-ranging reforms but these will be difficult because of the kingdom’s ‘repressive political environment’, a new report found.

The standard of journalism in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch need to improve, the African Media Barometer (AMB) said.

It said there were ‘challenges  with regards to accuracy and fairness’.

It said there had been some improvements in recent years but, ‘issues such as unbalanced stories, misquotes, exaggerated headlines as well as spelling and grammatical errors mar reporting standards’.

The AMB report was written by a panel of 12 people all working in Swaziland. There were five from the media and seven from civil society. They met over three days in October 2018.

In its report AMB said, ‘Another challenge is the skewed reporting of eSwatini society. The media do not always fairly represent all voices in society, including minorities. For instance, women’s voices in the media continue to be marginalised to a great extent while content continues to be male-dominated. Similarly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) issues are not often covered by the media and when they are, they are reported in a negative way. Persons with disabilities are also marginalised both in news content and in the newsrooms.’

AMB also found, ‘Self-censorship and corruption, which are common in newsrooms, also affect media professionalism and the integrity of the news. Panellists pointed to the extremely low salaries combined with the poor working conditions of journalists as a cause of corruption. 

‘Corruption is not only prevalent amongst the lowest paid journalists, but also occurs with editors and managers. The close relationship between the media and political or business elites contributes to corrupt behaviour in the higher echelons of the media.’

The wide-ranging 65-page report added, ‘Lack of ‘access to information’ legislation ensures that accessing public information is difficult. The Official Secrets Act and other cultural practices restrict the media in their efforts to obtain information and report freely on the activities of government. Accessing information for ordinary citizens, particularly those in rural communities, is not easy. In 2007, the government released a draft Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, however, 11 years later, the Bill has not been passed.’

AMB concluded, ‘There is no doubt that eSwatini needs wide ranging media reforms. This could be achieved through a concerted advocacy effort by civil society organisations. However, over the years, the effectiveness of civil society has declined due to the repressive political environment and dwindling donor funding. The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) needs resuscitation to ensure its effectiveness. The Media Workers Union of Swaziland (MWUS) needs to be inclusive of media organisations including the Times of Swaziland, the only independent newspaper in the country. The recently formed Swaziland Media Consortium (SMC) made up of eight media bodies is a step in the right direction. The SMC operates under the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations.’

See also

Journalists in Swaziland endure year of harassment as they try to do their jobs

Increase in support for free press

Making media freedom in Swaziland is more than a dream

Swaziland Govt minister is far from truth when she praises media freedom in kingdom

Censorship total at Swazi state media

No comments: