MEDIA REGULATION DEBATE: LOBHABULI IS COMING FOR US

Let me state, as a starting point, that when my mother left the hospital carrying a new-born me, more than 50 years ago, her first port of call was Msunduza where my father’s aunt was living at the time and where the family waited for her with great excitement. Therefore, my association with Skom starts at the beginning of my life.

That said, I want to say that it is very unfortunate that, when engaging in this country’s socio-political discourse, people take a narrow view of issues raised instead of looking at the broader picture and, most importantly, paying attention to context.

I will address myself to the Skom question in a two stage process. First, I ask myself why Welcome Dlamini, an elected MP from Skom, suddenly became the foremost champion of media policy and regulation only three months after leaving the biggest print media house in the country, The Times, where he made his name?

Has anyone noted the irony that MP Welcome, who was given a roaring send-off by The Times on winning the elections, has now turned on his former employers and is colluding against them without even having bothered to take a cooling period from his old job? What does that tell us about the character of such a person?

He is not the only journalist who has left the media and stood and won last year’s national elections. MP Alec Lushaba, more experienced and much more senior to him won the same elections at Hhukwini and is also an MP. However, MP Lushaba has not said a word about this matter, yet his involvement in the operations of a media house was far greater and more involved than MP Welcome ever was?

Are we to believe that MP Welcome was asked by the people of Mbabane East and, by necessary implication, Skom, to champion media regulation and policy with the prime minister? I think not. As he acknowledges in his own statement, I know Msunduza very well and can state, without any fear of contradiction, that this cannot be the case. So, what’s going on here?

The answer to me is quite obvious, but I shall leave it to all those who claim to understand the deeper workings of this country’s politics machinations to provide the answers. Second, in my discourse with the Prime Minister, Russell Dlamini, on Thursday morning, I pointed out to him, when addressing the Skom question, that if he wanted us to take him seriously about the need for media policy and regulation he would have to do better than a choice such as MP Welcome as an expert and advisor. Here’s why I said so.

Media regulation encroaches on freedom of speech, a fundamental right that all emaSwati should enjoy. The application of this freedom starts with the media. Therefore, if the premier is honest about media regulation, it would be remiss of him to select as an advisor and expert on media issues someone like MP Welcome, only because he worked at The Times for several years and won an election.

This country has very well educated media scholars who could help the premier if he was honest in his intentions. I mention Dr Maxwell Mthembu, who is at Uneswa as a journalism lecturer. He is a doctor of the craft with no less than a PhD. He too started his career at The Times long before MP Welcome showed up. There is Khulekani Nene, another academic in journalism at Limkokwing University who has a Master’s Degree in the craft. He too worked at The Times. There is Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, also another holder of a Masters Degree in Journalism who has extensive newspaper experience. Then there is Phesheya Dube, a PhD candidate in Journalism who is currently Principal Secretary at the Ministry of ICT.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive of well educated emaSwati in a field that so concerns our premier from whom he could seek expertise and advice. There is, therefore, much to be said that the Prime Minister has turned only to MP Welcome, from Skom, as an adviser and expert on media policy and regulation whose only claim to the role is his experience working for The Times and winning an election in Mbabane East.

I find it very hard to come to terms with the fact that my life in a profession I have served for 36 years will be regulated by an expert of MP Welcome’ calibre who brings to the Prime Minister’s office nothing more than a victory at an election eSkom.

As already stated, there are many emaSwati who could add value to media policy and regulation but are being ignored. Again, I ask, what is going on here? When the Prime Minister met the Editors Forum and first raised the issue of media policy and regulation, the Minister of ICT, Savannah Maziya and her officials were not there.

It was very strange for a sitting Prime Minister to meet people of a profession without their line minister in attendance. Had the minister and her officials been there, they would have appraised the premier on what had happened about media regulation and policy over the last 20 years that he feels so strongly about today. So why was ICT left out of this meeting where policy and regulation matters were on the agenda, a meeting where editors were then told that MP Welcome would be the expert to fix the country’s media problem? Prime Minister Russell is no fool.

I could have sworn that he said, at the breakfast meeting, that he has two Masters Degrees in his field of studies. He, therefore, knows research and its importance. Yet, he does not seem to have bothered to research on the state of media policy and regulation before he launched his campaign, ably helped by MP Welcome. This is no oversight. It is deliberate. Again, I ask, what’s going on here?

It is extremely unfortunate that an innocuous comment about Skom has riled a whole MP at a critical period of parliamentary debate over the country’s national budget where his mind should be. We have to ask the question, once again, what is going on here? That Prime Minister Russell should launch such a furious campaign so early in his life as a politician in a system that cannot function without the media raises questions of the truth of his intentions. Kute buNkulunkulu la.

I have been a journalist for a good part of my life. However, I could easily have ignored the shenanigans I see right before my eyes over this media regulation issue. This nefarious agenda is so blatant to my eyes that I could not shut up. I see that shark, Jaws in the far horizon and lo bhabuli is coming after all of us. Angeke ngithule!