31 December 2012
MISA Swaziland remains committed to its mandate to promote freedom of expression via a free, independent and pluralistic media. As we bring down the curtain on 2012, MISA takes this opportunity to take stock of the media sector.
Credit goes to Government for having made progress in media development by tabling a number of Bills in Parliament. We thank the legislators for ordering the Minister for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) to involve the public and stakeholders in the law-making exercise.
- Swaziland Communications Commission Bill, 2010
- Swaziland Electronic Communications Commission Bill, 2010
- Books and Newspapers Amendment Bill, 2010
The first two Bills seek to open up the airwaves and introduce a regulatory framework in the communications industry. The third one seeks to regulate entry into the print media business. As much as this progress is appreciated, MISA is concerned that certain parts of these Bills need fine tuning if they were to meet the regional and international standards and promote freedom of expression and diversity in a constitutional dispensation.
MISA Swaziland further appeals to the ICT Minister to expedite the tabling of the Public Service Broadcasting Corporation Draft Bill 2007. This Bill seeks to transform the state broadcasters into the public service broadcasters. We believe that this transformation is necessary to ensure equal access to media by all citizens irrespective of their status. This is consistent with the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and other media including the press.
If the above pieces of legislation were in place, Government would have dealt effectively with the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications – MTN Swaziland saga. As MISA, we express our disappointment at the way Government handled the marathon legal battle between the telecoms giants. This exposed the leaders’ conflict of interest as it became clear that the motive was to protect certain individuals’ interests at the expense of more than 50 000 SPTC subscribers who were eventually deprived of an alternative and affordable telecommunications service.
MISA-Swaziland extends its gratitude to the traditional authorities for bringing back Sibaya Dialogue which was a proof of the Tinkhundla participatory democracy as it is defined in the Constitution. Freedom of expression reigned supreme for a week as Swazis from all walks of life had a say in the way this country is governed. We urge the leadership to respect the Constitution which provides that Sibaya is the highest decision-making body and that it would be held annually. It was proven that it could deepen our participatory governance in a constitutional democracy.
As each day passes by, the words of Prince Masitsela ring true that Sibaya was nothing but a forum of letting off steam (kutihhamula). Inside the cattle byre, Swazis passed a vote of no confidence in Government. They also called for the review of the controversial Circular No. 1 and pleaded for the royal pardon of the fired teachers. But, the powers that be seem reluctant to release and implement the Sibaya Dialogue Report. Worse still, the fierce power struggle that has ensued between Liqoqo Chairman and Prime Minister threatens to divide the nation. This does not bode well for our cherished peace. We appeal to His Majesty, King Mswati III to intervene as the father of the nation.
Human Rights Violations
MISA is concerned that Government continues to violate freedom of expression though it is party to regional and international human rights instruments. During the Sibaya Dialogue, Government left out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa (DPFEA) from the ministerial presentations of UN Conventions that were later rushed to Parliament. This robbed the public of a chance to understand and appreciate the vital media role to provide them with platforms for public debate the same way as Sibaya.
After the Sibaya Dialogue, Government dusted off the Public Service Announcement Guidelines and rushed to table them in Parliament. The sole objective is to tighten the grip of unbridled censorship on the media. Government then banned Acting Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa from issuing a national statement in the broadcast media. It has banned blacklisted civil society groups, ministers and legislators from using the state media. Chiefs have to sanction the opinions of their subjects before they can be aired on the radio. By enforcing the PSA Guidelines, Government violates the rights of Swazi citizens to media freedom.
As signatory to the above instruments, Government should respect the SADC Protocol on Culture, Sports and Information which advocate public service broadcasting. We want to remind Government about its commitment to National Development Strategy (NDS) and Information and Media Policy which also provide for the transformation of the state broadcaster to a public service broadcaster.
The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers proprietor also suspended editors of its daily and weekly papers on the allegation of not carrying out the newspaper’s original mandate. Six months later, MISA and stakeholders are still waiting with bated breath for the findings of the investigations and closure of the matter. The continued extension of their suspension amounts to violation of their constitutional right to media freedom.
State apparatuses continue to infringe on media freedom by intimidating and harassing journalists while discharging their duties. A Times of Swaziland photojournalist was manhandled by the police for taking a picture of an asthmatic maiden during the Reed Dance at Embangweni Royal Residence. The Attorney General also hauled The Nation editor to the High Court charged with contempt of court. Ten months later, the presiding judge over the matter has not passed verdict on the test case of media freedom.
Following uproar over an article authored by Times of Swaziland Sunday’s columnist Qalakaboli Dlamini, MISA calls for respect for the constitutional right to freedom of expression by all parties. However, this freedom is not absolute. Both columnists and journalists have to strike a balance between freedom and responsibility. They should know that they are accountable and responsible to society. News should always display a high level of accuracy, truth and information. Let us avoid peddling prejudices and reinforcing stereotypes that may worsen discrimination against and marginalisation of other groups in society.
MISA-Swaziland condemns all forms of violation of freedom of expression and media freedom in the new constitutional dispensation. We strongly believe that a free society is one that talks to itself using all available platforms, where freedom of expression and media freedom thrive on professionalism.
MISA takes this opportunity to pay tribute to former National Director Comfort Mabuza for his immense contribution to the growth of the organisation. Not forgetting its partners such as UNESCO, US Embassy and OSISA for their unwavering support in the hard times of an economic meltdown.
Vuyisile Sikelela Hlatshwayo
MISA-Swaziland National Director