5 June 2013
“Newspapers can write what they like even about me or parliament.”
These are the words attributed to Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini at a meeting with editors on Thursday May 30, 2013, as reported in daily newspaper Swazi Observer.
However, in a related article about the meeting between the PM and editors in the Swazi Observer on Friday May 31, 2013, it was reported that members of parliament, “like any other citizen… should pay the E10 fee… at the [radio] station so that their issues could be aired as announcements”.
The prime minister, according to the report, “observed that every media, even worldwide, had its own guidelines regulating how it should operate, and those guidelines should be followed by all”.
While the print media, which in reality faces its own challenges of censorship and the more pervasive self-censorship, can, according to the PM, write what it likes about the government, the broadcast media is not so fortunate, in theory or reality.
Article 2.2.2 subsection (iv) of the ministry of information, communication and technology’s public service announcement guidelines for broadcasting says that any announcement “that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda shall not be allowed”.
In its review of the media in 2012, Swaziland’s chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a press freedom NGO, noted the many“ restrictive media laws, including the draconian Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008”.
In addition, MISA reported “the government has invoked the Public Service Announcement (PSA) guidelines to further suppress dissenting voices in the state broadcast media”.
MISA’s review continues: “Little has changed in the broadcast media. The Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), which controls radio, and Swaziland Television Broadcasting Corporation (STBC), television, remain the two dominant players — the two only players, really.
“They operate with public funds, yet they remain state broadcasters instead of public service broadcasters. Government has PSA guidelines to prevent citizens from airing their views via these state broadcasters. There is one other radio station, the Voice of the Church (VOC), airing mostly religious programmes. And there is a private television station, Channel Swazi, which is on-and-off air due to financial challenges. Neither of these independent broadcasters dare to question the country’s ruling elite or report on them in anything but positive terms.”
Not only must radio announcements be in line with government policy, but citizens also need approval from their chiefs before they can make these ‘positive’ announcements. In part, Article 3.2 of the broadcast guidelines says a public service announcement “shall be considered acceptable if it conforms to the following conditions: If it is line with Government Policy” and “If it is authorized by the Chiefs through the Regional Administrator’s office or Deputy Prime Ministers office…”
In a recent media case that put Swaziland in the international spotlight, editor of The Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu was ordered to pay E200,000 ($US21,000) within three days or else go to jail for two years. His crime: writing two articles about judiciary. Makhubu lodged an appeal and is waiting to hear when the case will continue.
This case alone suggests Swaziland has some way to go before media freedom is a reality.
On the same day as the Swazi Observer reported the prime minster’s comments on the media, the rival daily Times of Swaziland reported that the PM “said wayward individuals deserved to be beaten with a man-made sharp weapon (sintjempeza)”.
And click here to read how Swaziland dropped 11 places on Reporters Without Border global media freedom ranking list. The sub-Saharan country is now ranked 155th out of 179 countries.
For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director