MAY 7, 2023

MBABANE -While media practitioners from all over the world celebrate World Press Freedom, freelance and foreign correspondents representing foreign media agencies in the country have not enjoyed any form of support from some government establishments.

I have to declare my interest on the issue since I have on a number of occasions failed to get official government position on some issues of interest to international media organisations we represent in the country.

This article has been prompted by the speech of the European Union (EU), Ambassador to the kingdom, Dessislava Choumelova, who called on the eSwatini media to strive to report on fact-based news and also be responsible citizens since the nation looks up to them for accurate news. This has left a bitter to some practitioners who have been made to move from pillar to post by some government officers. Refusing to talk to someone who approaches you for comment deprives that institution of the opportunity to have their views seen or accessed by decision-makers. It goes without saying that getting that establishment’s side of the story by a global wire service will expose that organisation to global players, who command groundswell support.

The Royal eSwatini Police Service have on a number of occasions demanded introductory letters from us but that has never yielded any fruits from the office of the police spokesperson. This was despite that Phindile Vilakati advised that the regional office should write a letter to the national commissioner and copy it to her. At some stage, former government spokesman, Sabelo Dlamini had to intervene since he understood the importance of releasing accurate information.

This was at the height of the unrest in 2021, where there were a lot of stories or allegations flying around and because of her failure to be forthcoming with accurate information, it turned fictitious news into facts since everyone at the time everyone with a smart phone became a journalist and some elevated themselves to the position of editors.

It becomes a worrying factor when officers decide to take international organisations for a ride, this shows that some of our officials were very unprofessional. Even if they had their fears, they should honour their end of the bargain as they claim they only talk to official media outlets.

That was done but she did not bother to reply and several calls were directed to her but she did not have the guts of sending a reply where she declined to include the international wire service.

As if this was infectious, the then Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) now eSwatini Revenue Service (ERS) communications manager, Vusi Dlamini used the same strategy where he said the news agency should write a letter to commissioner general through his office introducing itself and its correspondent in the country. The regional office based in Johannesburg was doing an article where some major cigarette selling companies declared that they were exporting cigarettes running to billions and as an international news agency we wanted to verify those allegations but the cold shoulder we received from the communications unit of the government tax collecting agency. Such has made it difficult for the international news organisation to put things into perspective because some officer felt the agency did not deserve to be attended to.

Those of us who have been in this game for some time, miss the era of the late Vusi Masuku, who made sure that he attended to every question that was sent to him. His successor, Wendy Hleta also had an open-door policy. Former government spokesperson Percy Simelane still believes in attending to all media practitioners, even before the introduction of WhatsApp, Simelane did not mind sending a four pages short message. Interestingly, these officials have been around and instead of asking how they can attend the issues do not care that their conduct erodes trust on the government by international media organisations.

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