Friday, January 7, 2011


The Times of Swaziland is getting too close to Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed Prime Minister.

The Times, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, today (7 January 2011) publishes a report that one of the PM’s closest allies, along with a ‘flamboyant ambassador’, are about to be sacked from the Cabinet over a ‘botched business deal worth millions of Emalangeni’.

But, the Times doesn’t name the pair involved, saying, ‘The minister and the ambassador are known to this newspaper, but their names will not be revealed for now.’

But why not tell us? There is no legal or ethical reason to withhold the names, as long as you give the accused a chance to put their side of the story.

The answer almost certainly is that the Times is doing Prime Minister Dlamini’s bidding. In the report, the Times lets the PM say (more or less) that he will tell the media what’s going on when he is good and ready.

But, why let the PM get away with that? A clue may be in this sentence from the report, ‘In an interview on Wednesday, the prime minister, in his usual jocular mood, elected to down-play the issue of the looming Cabinet reshuffle.’

Did you get that? The PM ‘in his usual jovial manner’. Who says he’s ‘jovial’? Why the Times, of course. And why bother to describe his mood as jovial unless the Times wanted its readers to warm to the PM. And as for ‘down-play the issue? what is it that the PM doesn’t want us to know? And why won’t the Times behave like an independent newspaper and tell us?

This isn’t the first time that the Times has overstepped the boundary between independent newspaper and lackey to the Prime Minister.

Last month (December 2010), in an astonishing interview with the PM, the Times congratulated Dlamini (who is presently embroiled in a corruption scandal regarding the sale of government land) on his handling of the economic crisis engulfing Swaziland. This was when any truly independent observer could see that he and his government’s policies are largely to blame for that crisis.

The Times also let him to tell blatant lies. Dlamini was allowed to say he is not a ‘vindictive’ person and he is not intolerant to criticism.

This is the same Dlamini, whose government vindictively locked up Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), for nearly a year on trumped up terrorism charges. When Masuku eventually appeared in court in September 2009, he was released within hours.

This is the same Dlamini who in September 2010 said he wanted to torture by whipping their feet, foreigners who criticised his government. That’s not very tolerant.

The coverage of Dlamini tarnishes any reputation the Times might have for independence. For sure, that reputation isn’t very high, but the failings of the Times – like other news media in Swaziland – usually rests on its willingness to censor itself or be censored. In this way it makes decisions about what not to publish.

Its present attitude to Dlamini is of an entirely different nature: this is about a proactive decision to publish. The Times has chosen, without coercion, to publish positive reports about the Prime Minister and it is unclear (to me, at least) what it expects to gain from this.

It won’t win it more readers (it could easily lose it some) because nobody wants to read propaganda - that’s what the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is for.

The Times needs to decide quickly whether it wants to be a newspaper or just another branch of Swazi Government propaganda.

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