e-Forum / Media Alert

First 3 months of media complaints commission in Swaziland: progress and challenges

MISA-Swaziland e-Forum article

The following document was produced by Mr Jabu Matsebula, Ombudsman of Swaziland’s Media Complaints Commission 

Progress so far
Since the Ombudsman assumed office, the newspapers have made significant efforts to improve the quality of their content and its accuracy.

In addition, they have ensured that minimum complaints are kept at a minimum, and where they have occurred, are addressed adequately inhouse. As a result, newpapers have been able to address readers’  concerns and no complaint has been escalated to the MCC.

Advocacy and outreach
The Ombudsman has actively engaged with stakeholders. He has mounted regular MCC advocacy and outreach continues to highlight the importance of the MCC as a self regulatory mechanism and emphasise its relevance as the only credible modality for guaranteeing public access to human rights provisions enshrined in the Constitution. In-house seminars have been held with journalists in both newspapers.

Radio and TV interviews have also been conducted to promote public awareness of the MCC as a vital contribution to the operationalization of the national constitution and the promotion of human rights freedom of expression and press freedom.

Gains so far
Activation of the MCC is critical in defending the space and gaining further ground is the battle to stave off latent and active Government tendencies to control the media. Despite its expressed commitment to freedom of expression and press freedom, and despite its expressed support to the principle of self regulation, Government has a different understanding of self regulation.

The government does not fully appreciate any regulation outside government control. In that regard the Ministry of Information continues to press Parliament to approve legislation for the creation of a statutory regulator. The Media Council Bill, first submitted and rejected by Parliament in 1997, has been resubmitted numerously. The current bill is dated is the Media Council Bill 2010. If approved, the bill seeks to institute a qualification system that will ensure that no one without a basic education in journalism is allowed to practice. It will also enforce a government code of ethics and establish a media council with the power to licence both journalists and newspapers, to investigate journalists and to punish journalists with fines, suspensions, expulsion and even imprisonment.

Impact and lessons learnt
Though impact cannot be measured in the immediate short term, improvement in professionalism by the news output has been significant since the launch of the MCC. The most important measure is the number of corrections that  has been significant.

Ownership of the mechanism that has been demonstrated by stakeholders. Both newspapers have a firm commitment to pay their subscriptions and support the MCC. Both the Times and Observer offer free space for promotional messages of the MCC.

News organizations have invested in systems improvements and quality control to ensure that mistakes are minimzed. The improvement in professionalism can be measured in the s 5.

Operationalizing the MCC is a major achievement for press freedom in Swaziland. It will add weight to the objections of the news media and freedom of expression advocacy in influencing Government appetite for censorship and press control.

Challenges
The most significant challenge to the MCC is the insufficiency of resources for implementing the MCC programme.

The lack of resources is a critical area that speaks not only of the sustainability of the process but is also a lightning rod that is likely to attract the attention of the Government as another argument for reinforcing their ambition to control the media.

The generous support from media stakeholders is not enough. A full fledged programme of action will require far more resources to provide the mechanism visibility and promote public confidence. In this regard, the Secretariat continues to appeal for support. A project proposal outlining the programme objectives and activities of the MCC is currently under elaboration and will be submitted for consideration of international supporters.

To get in touch with Swaziland’s Media Complaints Commission, contact Mr Jabu Matsebula via on email on ombudsman@realnet.co.sz or call 2404 9700 or 2404 6677.

MCC notice in Times of Swaziland

How to correct the press… the notice on page 1 of the Times of Swaziland inviting readers to contact the newspaper’s internal ombudsman or the media complaints ombudsman if they feel something needs to be corrected, or if readers believe the code of ethics has been breached

 

 

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