The year under review has been fraught with many challenges for the mass media in Swaziland. Court orders were issued to try and censor the media, journalists were harassed and a newspaper was threatened with closure. Censorship of the media reared its ugly head when the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi ordered the privately-owned Times of Swaziland to stop publishing articles about him in the wake of a three-month long judicial crisis in the country, which saw lawyers boycotting the courts.
The media landscape still remains the same with no new entities being registered. The government has continued to fail in liberalising the airwaves. It has been several years now since the idea of liberalisation of the airwaves was first mooted. A proposed merger of the state-owned television and radio stations into a single public broadcaster are still far from being a reality.
The country’s fiscal challenges have resulted in a decision by the government of Swaziland to stop sponsoring students enrolled in the Journalism and Mass Communication programme at the University of Swaziland ostensibly because journalism is not one of its “priorities”. This in itself poses serious questions about the governments’ understanding of the role of the media in society. Furthermore, it reveals the breathtaking double-standards of a government that bemoans the state of the media in Swaziland but is reluctant to invest in the training of journalists and media practitioners.
Access to information still remains elusive in the Swazi context. Interference by the state and censorship of the mainstream media still persists. Electronic media still remains the exclusive domain of the state. This has resulted in the marginalization of many citizens who cannot afford any alternative mediums for accessing information. A decision by the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Princess Tsandzile (Dlamini), to ban access to information at the Deeds Office in the wake of a scandal involving the incumbent Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Ms. Lindiwe Dlamini, who sold Crown Land at reduced prices to other ministers, is cause for concern.
By Dr Maxwell Mthembu, for the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)