Broadcasting

“We want choice.” 16-year-old Swazi student

MISA calls for an end to the state monopoly of broadcasting in Swaziland. MISA believes a state monopoly over broadcasting violates the public’s right to know and the right to free speech. The government-owned Swazi TV, under the authority of the state-controlled Swaziland Television Authority (STVA), and Swaziland Information and Broadcasting Services (SBIS), which runs the heavily-censored radio station, are the only two national broadcasters in the country. There is just one private radio station, Voice of the Church, which is licensed to broadcast religious content only. Both Swazi TV and SBIS are firmly under state control.

Swazi TV claims to enjoy some independence from the government as it is a parastatal, but the board of directors is directly appointed by the Minister for Information Communications and Technology and journalists tell of being subject to strict controls over what they are allowed to report. The evening news bulletin clearly demonstrates the lack of editorial independence at Swazi TV. A typical bulletin is an uncritical summary of what the country’s leadership has done that day, starting with the king and working down the hierarchy. Dissenting voices are rarely, if ever, aired.

The national radio station, SBIS, is overtly state-controlled. SBIS operates as an arm of government with staff rotated easily between it and various ministries. SBIS programs are subject to government censorship as well as frequent self-censorship to ensure content reflects the interests of the authorities.

Government is able to maintain its monopoly because it is not only the one significant player in the broadcasting industry but it is also the regulator. This is a major conflict of interest that contradicts the government’s own Information and Media Policy (2005) which calls for an independent broadcasting regulator and the establishment of the three-tier system.

MISA advocates for the establishment of a three-tier broadcasting system that allows for public broadcasting, commercial broadcasting and community broadcasting. Under the three-tier system there has to be a clear demarcation of responsibilities between government, the regulator and service providers. According to the SADC Declaration on Information and Communications Technology (2002), the government should be responsible “for a conducive national policy framework, independent regulators responsible for licensing, and a multiplicity of providers in a competitive environment responsible for providing services”. Once government puts the policy and enabling legislation in place, they must exercise no further control over the broadcast media.

In an effort to implement the Information and Media Policy, the Ministry for Information, Communications and Technology has drafted new legislation for the broadcasting sector, but to date no bills have been gazetted.

As long as the government clings to its monopoly of the airwaves the public’s right to freedom of expression and right to access information will be severely restricted.

MISA calls on the government to enact legislation in line with best practice that will establish the following: (1) an independent regulator; (2) a public broadcaster; (3) a fair licensing procedure to allow for a multiplicity of community and commercial stations.

Useful information:

African Charter on Broadcasting

Article 19, Broadcasting Pluralism and Diversity — a training manual for African regulators

Article 19, Broadcasting Policy and Practice in Africa

Article 19, Access to the Airwaves

UNESCO, Public Service Broadcasting: a best practices sourcebook

Hendrik and Christel Bussiek, Broadcasting Regulation Toolbox 2

Hendrik and Christel Bussiek, Public Broadcasting Toolbox 3

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