This study sought to analyse the extent to which the Swazi press are able to encourage good governance and contribute to the realisation of democracy.
Most reporting was found wanting. In the daily newspapers, the dominance of uncritical, event-based reporting that was over-reliant on government voices put the agenda-setting power firmly in the hands of the government.
Further, the press’s inability to critique the King’s role in the country’s leadership put a huge cloak of silence over the central governance and democracy issue in Swaziland. The prevalence of superficial reporting shaped by government interests combined with self-censorship demonstrates that the press is doing little to effect governance and political matters.
However, the Nation and the opinion writers in the Times offer some hope. This study demonstrates that the Nation occupies an important place in the Swazi press. The Nation’s reporting was markedly more informative and analytical than the Times and Observer. The Nation was also the most vocal and critical about the political system and governance failures, even allowing some critique of the monarchy. And while the Times opinion writers did not discuss the monarchy, they were found to be very outspoken about governance failures and frequently argued for democracy.
This study brings to light three areas where media freedom advocates and the press itself need to do more:
- Empower the existing media to push the boundaries.
- Increase media freedom with legislation such as a freedom of information law, legal protection for whistle blowers and by testing the constitutional protection of freedom of expression in the courts.
- Encourage new independent media companies that would be willing to set their own agenda rather then reinforce the agenda of those in power.
By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)