African Media Barometer (AMB), 2005-2009
A panel of media and civil society representatives assess the media landscape using an African-specific measurement system — the African Media Barometer (AMB). Results published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
2009: Freedom of expression and of the media are guaranteed in the Swaziland Constitution, which came into effect on 8 February 2006. However, the constitution includes claw-back clauses that take away the rights to free speech and assembly. In addition, the Constitution is not supported by complementary pieces of legislation.The country still has 32 restrictive laws scattered on its statute books.
In addition, the government introduced in 2008 a new restrictive law – the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The law has already been used to scare people from speaking out. It was used in November 2008 to charge Mario Masuku, the president of the now banned political party, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), for speaking out in a public forum. During the same month, the Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini warned that journalists reporting critically of government would be viewed as terrorists. In June 2009, prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was arrested and charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, for expressing himself.
2007: There are still at least 32 pieces of legislation on the statute books that restrict freedom of expression and/or media freedom, many dating back to the pre-independence era. The Proscribed Publications Act 1968 gives the Minister of Information sole power to declare a publication “prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public morality or public health”. The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act 1968 criminalises the making of statements that “bring into hatred and contempt” the King, his heirs or successors; “raise discontent or disaffection” among the people of Swaziland and “promote feeling of ill-will and hostility” between different groups.
The Books and Newspapers Act 1963 requires all print operators to be licensed and places a prohibitive cash bond of E15,000 (Emalangeni equals South African Rand) on entry into the print media industry. The Officials Secrets Act 1963 prohibits access to government-held information, except on approval by senior government officials. Efforts are under way to reform some of these laws. The Ministry of Public Service and Information has produced six draft bills, including the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Draft Bill 2007, which is meant to replace the Official Secrets Act. There is also the Books and Newspapers (Amendment) Draft Bill 2007. However, this amendment bill does not reduce the restrictive cash bond required of print media operators.
2005: Existing legislation suggests that the government does not seek to promote an environment which allows for a diverse media. In fact, most of the current media laws inhibit the development of a diverse media. For instance, The Swaziland Television Authority Act, 1983 entrenches the state’s monopoly over the television industry. The STVA Authority controls all television and broadcasting stations in Swaziland. It further controls the industry relating to sale and distribution of television receivers and associated equipment. The Authority regulates and controls the duration of broadcasting time and has the power to issue and withdraw licenses on such terms and conditions as the STVA Board may deem fit.
The Books and Newspapers Act, 1963 makes it difficult for aspiring media owners, articularly Swazi entrepreneurs, to establish new newspapers. The bond amount to be deposited with the Registrar of Books and Newspapers as a pre-requisite for the operation of a print media house was only recently increased from E1 000 to the present E15 000. The media considered this prohibitive increase to be an effort by the government to frustrate media entrepreneurs, particularly local Swazi media practitioners, from venturing into the media business. The need for a cash bond is viewed as unjustified when insurance policies for professional indemnity are available to cater for alleged media misconduct.