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The alarm should be sounded when a newsreader wrongly pronounces words and names of persons or places during the first morning bulletin of a national radio station, then comes back with the same pronunciations in the report that follows an hour later. This has become the norm at the Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services (EBIS), particularly the SiSwati channel, which I normally listen to for news in the morning and evening.

How and why is this being allowed to happen? Where are the editors? The positive changes that have taken place at the station from the time that Sabelo Dlamini was appointed Director are being watered down by what appears to be lethargic performance of the newsroom. Before one takes a deserved swipe at the station’s editors, there is need to point a finger at the newsreaders themselves. How does one explain the failure to pronounce ‘Mahamba Gorge’ and ‘Al Qaeda’. This should be basic. But no! The newsreader decided that this should be pronounced as, ‘Mahamba Gorge’ as ‘Mahamba George’ and Al Qaeda as ‘Al Khwida’.


These, for crying out loud, are words that are known in local newsrooms and every journalist knows about them. But not for EBIS! How does one go on air without knowing the meaning or pronunciation of words or names contained in a bulletin? Perhaps, there is a need to go into what a newsreader, in the ideal world of radio journalism, should do, which is evidently not happening at EBIS.  

    The Radio Academy in the United Kingdom does a great job in first defining who newsreaders are – and the broadcast journalists who write news and read the news on the radio. That, the Academy says, means researching, verifying and writing stories, and finding and editing audio to illustrate them. Then comes the important part; they will prepare and practise reading it out – before doing it live on air. The final product that listeners are subjected to by the EBIS newsreaders is clear that there is no rehearsing of the news prior to it being read live on air. Why? Also, it is clear that newsreaders do not bother to consult either their colleagues or anyone they consider knowledgeable on the subject in order to get clarity on words or names they are not sure of. The onus should be on the newsreaders to seek improvement in skill and knowledge of language and associated variables. Listening to other news platforms and reading different publications, as well as engaging with colleagues, should be a journalists’ everyday quest.

The Radio Academy also spells out the daily tasks of a newsreader, which must involve the following:
w    Keeping across the news agenda, reading newspapers and websites and watching news programmes.
w    Listening to the stations on which they read the news so they understand the audience and what interests them.
w    Searching for stories, cultivating contacts, combing social media and talking to people about their lives and concerns.
w    Researching and writing bulletins and finding appropriate audio to illustrate them.
w    Liaising with programme teams about bulletins and any breaking news.
w    Driving their own desk in the news booth, while reading their bulletins on air.
I am in no means trying to portray myself as an expert in broadcasting, but I am merely trying to point out the obvious. Newsreaders need to take their jobs seriously if they also want the listeners to take them seriously. They should never undermine the listeners.  I am aware that there may be instances, which should not be happening regularly, where the newsreaders have to race into the studio at the last minute. But double- checking the pronunciation of foreign words with a colleague is always useful, no matter the pressure for deadline.
The other concern that should bother everyone is; why is it that these mispronunciations crop back into the next news bulletin? What do the editors say when they hear the mispronunciation during the first bulletin? I am saying this because I believe the editors do listen to the news. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to be told that they don’t.
That would explain why these mispronunciations are happening and being allowed to continue. As a print journalist, the first thing that I do every morning when I get to the office is to go through the day’s publication from front to back. I have to read every story that has been published. After that, we discuss the day’s publication with colleagues and that gives us an opportunity to note mistakes and areas that we need to improve. This is our daily SWOT analysis. If this is not happening at EBIS, then the station is headed for doom. The editors should be bothered about the quality of the news that is fed to the listeners.
One further concern with EBIS is that there has also been an influx of new siSwati words and phrases, which have not been heard of previously but now form part of the broadcast there. For instance, we have always known that the siSwati word for a singer is ‘umhlabeleli’ (‘bahlabeleli’ for plural. However, of late, we always here newsreaders and other broadcasters referring to a singer as ‘umhlabeli’ (‘bahlabeli’ for plural). Where is this coming from? There is also this word ‘tinsita’ that has become the darling for most broadcasters. Where has this word popped out from? More shockingly, there is this new phrase ‘kubulala emabhodlela’, which is used to mean a show of appreciations. Really? Since when has the breaking of bottles been used to display appreciation, even if used figuratively? Such words and phrases threaten the beauty of the siSwati language. I sometimes listen to South Africa’s Ligwalagwala FM and I have come to notice that the broadcasters there speak better siSwati than those at EBIS. Even pronunciation of siSwati words and phrases is much better than what we are subjected to by our EBIS broadcasters. Am I being harsh on our broadcasters? Yes, that is the intention. Otherwise, we will allow mediocrity to rule our ears daily.    


Audience research by National Public Radio (NPR) - an American non-profit media organisation headquartered in Washington, DC, showed that language and pronunciation are important to many public radio listeners, possibly because they are a well-read and information-hungry group. So listeners are quick to point out examples of any perceived lowering of standards. We certainly cannot, and should not, allow EBIS to continue lowering its standards. Recently, Lobamba Lomdzala Member of Parliament Marwick Khumalo raised concern about the standards at EBIS.

As a former broadcaster at the stations, MP Khumalo questioned when was the last time that an audience research was done to ascertain the attitude of listeners to what they were being fed by the broadcaster. From what I listen to daily, I would love to know what the rest of the listeners think.  I am saying this without seeking to undermine the good work that Sabelo has brought in since he became the station’s Director. But he should rein in his editors to do a better job. The editors should in turn read the riot act to the newsreaders and broadcasters.  

Radio as an electronic medium, and like any other media, serves three major purposes. These major purposes include informing, educating and entertaining. One important factor that has always made these tripod purposes realisable is the use of language. Therefore, if particular information is to be disseminated and appropriate language is not used, then, such information may not reach the audience in a way that they will be able to understand. Language, therefore, plays a major role in the usefulness of electronic media to the populace. As such, the language employed by a media house goes a long way in determining the listenership strength and effectiveness of its services.

The question of how to pronounce names and places, therefore, should always be a point of lively discussion among listeners and EBIS staff. EBIS is in the business of communicating news and information to a primarily Swati audience. This audience should not be lost in translation or, should I say, pronunciation.  

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