Newspaper introduces socially responsible initiative

MISA-Swaziland Statement
7 February 2013

Swaziland’s only privately owned newspaper, Times of Swaziland, has introduced an initiative aimed at assisting people who are victims of abuse.

In the Times on Tuesday 5 February, page ten, there was an article about the alleged rape of a four-year-old. Underneath the article appears an ‘information template’, or ‘contact template’, which has the contact details of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), as well as information on how and where to seek help (see picture). The template, envisioned to appear under most articles that mention abuse, not just articles that mention SWAGAA, reads as follows:

For help call SWAGAA’s toll-free line at 951, or 25052899. Both numbers operate Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm. For counseling go to SWAGAA’s Manzini office, Mababane Government Hospital, Hlathikulu Government Hospital, or Simunye Community Services.

It is also hoped that the information will be useful to people who are simply seeking further information about any matter that deals with abuse.

The ‘contact template’ idea was suggested to the Times by the Swaziland chapter Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech. MISA-Swaziland would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Times of Swaziland for entertaining the idea and then introducing it.

Times of Swaziland article with 'contact template' at the bottom
Times of Swaziland article with ‘contact template’ at the bottom


For comments or queries, please contact:
VuyisileHlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

Banned political party criticizes State newspaper group executive

MISA-Swaziland Alert-update
21 January 2013

The Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), a banned political party in the kingdom of Swaziland, has spoken out against the managing director of the state-owned Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, Alpheous Nxumalo, for suppressing diverse views and violating the Constitution.

In a letter published by the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only privately-owned newspaper, party leader Dr Alvit T. Dlamini pointed out that Swaziland’s Constitution has a Bill of Rights which protects freedom of speech and assembly.

Dlamini was responding to a recent column written by Nxumalo in which he vowed not to allow pro-democracy voices to be published in state-owned media. In the same breath, Nxumalo accused the media and non-governmental organisations of undermining the stability and prestige of the monarchy.

The column appeared in the Swazi Observer of Friday, 11 January 2013.

Wrote Nxumalo, in part: “It is absolutely true that most of the so-called democracy activists find it ‘democratic’ to insult the heads of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland. It is preposterous and fallacious….I will not submit to a mandate in contradiction with the mandate of the Swazi monarchy and its subsidiary institutions.”

Responding to this in the letter, Dr Dlamini said “Nxumalo must know that there is supposedly a Constitution that has a Bill of Rights, which speaks about freedom of speech…the very freedom he exercised when writing his article. This freedom is supposedly for all Swazis and not just for him alone.”

He added: “Unless Nxumalo can prove the allegations he is making, he must apologise to the nation for attempting to subvert the provisions of the Constitution, which is a grave offence.”

The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland has also asked Nxumalo to clarify his claims and to name the people and organisations he accuses in his article. Neither an explanation, nor an apology, has been forthcoming from him.

The NNLC also said it is “particularly troubled” by Nxumalo’s invocation of the former apartheid South Africa president, F.W de Klerk.

In his column, Nxumalo wrote that he agreed with de Klerk’s analysis that “all revolutionary forces sought to overthrow incumbent governments by mobilising the masses, by making countries ungovernable, by fomenting strikes, by involving churches, trade unions and civil society in their campaigns, by using propaganda to destroy the image and undermine the confidence of governments; by eliminating opposition through the use of terrorism and intimidation and by applying underhand and dirty political tactics to distract their perceived enemies”.

Said Dlamini in response to the above: “Those words were said by de Klerk when he was defending Apartheid, which the whole world had declared a crime against humanity”.

King Mswati III, Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has ruled Swaziland since 1986. His regime has fervently resisted efforts towards democratisation and although the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and assembly, political parties are banned and mass action is often met with violence.

MISA-Swaziland has since written a letter to the chairperson of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, S’thofeni Ginindza, to register its concerns with Nxumalo’s column and allegations contained therein.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

Senate president insults journalists, threatens censorship

MISA-Swaziland Alert
20 January 2013

Swaziland Senate president Gelane Zwane has insulted and threatened journalists for turning up to a meeting to which they were invited, according to reports in the Times of Swaziland, the country’s oldest privately-owned newspaper.

Zwane, who was in attendance at the meeting, held Thursday, 17 January 2013, to prepare for the opening of parliament, allegedly uttered rude words in the direction of journalists. The alleged insult was uttered in the local language, SiSwati.

“F****** ngalabantufu betindzaba,” she said, much to the shock of all, including the Speaker of Parliament, Prince Guduza, who was seated next to her, reported the newspaper.

Loosely translated, the insult reads as: “F*** off news people”.

The Times of Swaziland article also reported:

“Zwane further went on to say if anything that had been discussed yesterday [Thursday] was published in the media then she would ensure that those journalists were banned from covering the 2013 State Opening of Parliament slated for next month.”

Zwane’s outburst apparently came after the clerk of parliament, Ndvuna Dlamini, who had convened the meeting, said he wanted to say something but couldn’t because the media were present.

“It was at this point that Zwane interjected and said she was glad Dlamini has mentioned this. ‘Last year the media came here and published all that was discussed at this meeting, said Zwane’.”

The Times of Swaziland article, written by Sibongile Sukati, went on to say that “the media was invited by the office of the Clerk of Parliament and no instructions were given that the event should not be covered”.

The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) has repeatedly spoken out against this kind of treatment of the country’s journalists.

MISA-Swaziland National Director, Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, has appealed to Zwane to use the Editors Forum, Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), or MISA to address whatever grievances she may have against the media.

“No matter what might have happened you don’t address other professionals like that. Journalists are responsible for information dissemination in the country. Swazis in positions of power need to learn that no one is more Swazi or patriotic than other Swazis,” said Hlatshwayo.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director

Head of State-owned newspaper group vows to block pro-democracy voices

MISA-Swaziland Alert
15 January 2013

Managing Director of the state-owned Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, Alpheous Nxumalo, has vowed not to allow any pro-democracy voices to be published in his stable and has further accused other media practitioners in Swaziland of undermining the country’s institutions, the monarchy being one.

The newspaper group publishes the Swazi Observer and Weekend Observer.

In a scathing column titled ‘The Diplomat’ and published in the Swazi Observer of Friday, 11 January 2013, Nxumalo claimed the media in Swaziland were being used to “attack the government and other subordinate institutions with impunities. This has all been done in the name of freedom of the press.”

King Mswati III, Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has ruled Swaziland since 1986. His regime has fervently resisted efforts towards democratization and although the country’s Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, political parties are banned and mass action is often met with violence.

“It is absolutely true that most of the so-called democracy activists find it ‘democratic’ to insult the heads of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland. It is preposterous and fallacious,” Nxumalo wrote, going on to declare that he “will not submit to a mandate in contradiction with the mandate of the Swazi monarchy and its subsidiary institutions.”

In what may be considered a very controversial remark, Nxumalo also said he agreed with apartheid-era South Africa’s last president, F.W de Klerk that “all revolutionary forces sought to overthrow incumbent governments by mobilising the masses, by making countries ungovernable, by fermenting strikes, by involving churches, trade unions and civil society in their campaigns, by using propaganda to destroy the image and undermine the confidence of governments; by eliminating opposition through the use of terrorism and intimidation and by applying underhand and dirty political tactics to distract their perceived enemies.”

Reacting to Nxumalo’s column, editors from privately-owned media have asked the media manager to clarify his position and also provide evidence of which media organisations were hiding under the guise of freedom of the press to attack government.

Martin Dlamini, Managing Editor of the Times of Swaziland, has described Nxumalo’s column as “unfortunate” and demanded an apology should the latter fail to provide evidence of his claims.

“It’s very unfortunate that these allegations are made by a senior executive. They are unfounded as he failed to substantiate them. We demand him to substantiate them and provide us with evidence so that we can deal with the allegations. Failing this, we want him to issue an apology or we reserve the right to take further action because his allegations affect our credibility and business,” Dlamini said.

Editor of The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, said Nxumalo must name and shame “sponsored media” if he knows they exist. “He has to substantiate and clarify his allegations. I have no problem with him spelling out the editorial policy of his paper but I have a problem when he portrays himself as more patriotic than others,” Makhubu said.

Swaziland Solidarity Network chairman, Lucky Lukhele, has told some media outlets that self-censorship has become evident common in Swazi media. “We call journalists to join the fight for democratic freedom [as] Swaziland’s hope lies in true, independent journalism,” he is quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the Swaziland Chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) has criticised Nxumalo’s column and has insisted that freedom of expression is a human right which state-run media like the Observer group must facilitate for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizenry.

MISA-Swaziland has also written a letter to the chairperson of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group, S’thofeni Ginindza, to register its “grave concerns” with Nxumalo’s column and allegations therein.

For more information, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director


Journalist attacked by mob while covering chieftaincy dispute

MISA-Swaziland Alert
9 January 2013

Eugene Dube, a freelance journalist who writes for the state-owned Swazi Observer, is recovering after he was beaten by an angry mob while covering a long-standing chieftaincy dispute.

The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) visited Dube after learning of the attack. The journalist suffered injuries on the forehead, right shoulder and elbows.

The incident, Dube said, occurred around 18.30hrs on Friday, 4 January 2013 during a vigil at a homestead in Machobeni, a town in southern Swaziland. Family members had gathered at the homestead in preparation for the funeral of a relative, which was planned for the next morning.

As things happened, Dube accompanied the deputy sheriff of the region, Pat Jele, to the homestead, where Jele was to deliver a subpoena ordering the family to appear in court first before proceeding with the funeral.

According to reports in the Times of Swaziland, a privately-owned newspaper, Jele was delivering the subpoena after a Thami Thikazi, a representative of Chief Malambule Mduli (who in in charge of an area known as Mbilaneni Umphakatsi), filed to stop the funeral in so that a chieftaincy disputed could be settled first. The town of Machobeni falls under the chieftaincy jurisdiction of Mbilaneni Umphakatsi.

Dube says mourners manhandled Jele when he produced the court papers and they became increasingly angry and violent.

The journalist says he began taking photographs when the mob started to attack Jele. When they saw that Dube was taking photographs, the mob turned its attention on him.

Despite trying to escape the attack, Dube says the mob kept catching up with him and beating him with sticks, pelting stones, punching and kicking him while he lay on the ground. Efforts to clarify that he was a journalist went ignored and his camera was damaged in the process.

Both Jele and Dube have since made statements to the police and have received medical attention. According to reports in the Times of Swaziland, six men from Machobeni have been charged over the incident. They are charged with assault and damage to property. The case has been postponed till February 18.

Click here for International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) posting of this story.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director


MISA-Swaziland end of year statement 2012

MISA-Swaziland Statement
31 December 2012

MISA Swaziland remains committed to its mandate to promote freedom of expression via a free, independent and pluralistic media.  As we bring down the curtain on 2012, MISA takes this opportunity to take stock of the media sector.   

Credit goes to Government for having made progress in media development by tabling a number of Bills in Parliament. We thank the legislators for ordering the Minister for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) to involve the public and stakeholders in the law-making exercise.

Tabled Bills

  • Swaziland Communications Commission Bill, 2010
  • Swaziland Electronic Communications Commission Bill, 2010 
  • Books and Newspapers Amendment Bill, 2010

The first two Bills seek to open up the airwaves and introduce a regulatory framework in the communications industry. The third one seeks to regulate entry into the print media business. As much as this progress is appreciated, MISA is concerned that certain parts of these Bills need fine tuning if they were to meet the regional and international standards and promote freedom of expression and diversity in a constitutional dispensation.

MISA Swaziland further appeals to the ICT Minister to expedite the tabling of the Public Service Broadcasting Corporation Draft Bill 2007. This Bill seeks to transform the state broadcasters into the public service broadcasters. We believe that this transformation is necessary to ensure equal access to media by all citizens irrespective of their status. This is consistent with the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and other media including the press.

If the above pieces of legislation were in place, Government would have dealt effectively with the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications – MTN Swaziland saga. As MISA, we express our disappointment at the way Government handled the marathon legal battle between the telecoms giants. This exposed the leaders’ conflict of interest as it became clear that the motive was to protect certain individuals’ interests at the expense of more than 50 000 SPTC subscribers who were eventually deprived of an alternative and affordable telecommunications service.  

Sibaya Dialogue

MISA-Swaziland extends its gratitude to the traditional authorities for bringing back Sibaya Dialogue which was a proof of the Tinkhundla participatory democracy as it is defined in the Constitution. Freedom of expression reigned supreme for a week as Swazis from all walks of life had a say in the way this country is governed. We urge the leadership to respect the Constitution which provides that Sibaya is the highest decision-making body and that it would be held annually. It was proven that it could deepen our participatory governance in a constitutional democracy.

As each day passes by, the words of Prince Masitsela ring true that Sibaya was nothing but a forum of letting off steam (kutihhamula). Inside the cattle byre, Swazis passed a vote of no confidence in Government. They also called for the review of the controversial Circular No. 1 and pleaded for the royal pardon of the fired teachers. But, the powers that be seem reluctant to release and implement the Sibaya Dialogue Report. Worse still, the fierce power struggle that has ensued between Liqoqo Chairman and Prime Minister threatens to divide the nation. This does not bode well for our cherished peace. We appeal to His Majesty, King Mswati III to intervene as the father of the nation.

Human Rights Violations

MISA is concerned that Government continues to violate freedom of expression though it is party to regional and international human rights instruments. During the Sibaya Dialogue, Government left out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa (DPFEA) from the ministerial presentations of UN Conventions that were later rushed to Parliament. This robbed the public of a chance to understand and appreciate the vital media role to provide them with platforms for public debate the same way as Sibaya.

After the Sibaya Dialogue, Government dusted off the Public Service Announcement Guidelines and rushed to table them in Parliament. The sole objective is to tighten the grip of unbridled censorship on the media. Government then banned Acting Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa from issuing a national statement in the broadcast media. It has banned blacklisted civil society groups, ministers and legislators from using the state media. Chiefs have to sanction the opinions of their subjects before they can be aired on the radio. By enforcing the PSA Guidelines, Government violates the rights of Swazi citizens to media freedom.

As signatory to the above instruments, Government should respect the SADC Protocol on Culture, Sports and Information which advocate public service broadcasting. We want to remind Government about its commitment to National Development Strategy (NDS) and Information and Media Policy which also provide for the transformation of the state broadcaster to a public service broadcaster.

The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers proprietor also suspended editors of its daily and weekly papers on the allegation of not carrying out the newspaper’s original mandate. Six months later, MISA and stakeholders are still waiting with bated breath for the findings of the investigations and closure of the matter. The continued extension of their suspension amounts to violation of their constitutional right to media freedom.

State apparatuses continue to infringe on media freedom by intimidating and harassing journalists while discharging their duties. A Times of Swaziland photojournalist was manhandled by the police for taking a picture of an asthmatic maiden during the Reed Dance at Embangweni Royal Residence. The Attorney General also hauled The Nation editor to the High Court charged with contempt of court. Ten months later, the presiding judge over the matter has not passed verdict on the test case of media freedom.

Following uproar over an article authored by Times of Swaziland Sunday’s columnist Qalakaboli Dlamini, MISA calls for respect for the constitutional right to freedom of expression by all parties. However, this freedom is not absolute. Both columnists and journalists have to strike a balance between freedom and responsibility. They should know that they are accountable and responsible to society. News should always display a high level of accuracy, truth and information. Let us avoid peddling prejudices and reinforcing stereotypes that may worsen discrimination against and marginalisation of other groups in society.

MISA-Swaziland condemns all forms of violation of freedom of expression and media freedom in the new constitutional dispensation. We strongly believe that a free society is one that talks to itself using all available platforms, where freedom of expression and media freedom thrive on professionalism.

MISA takes this opportunity to pay tribute to former National Director Comfort Mabuza for his immense contribution to the growth of the organisation. Not forgetting its partners such as UNESCO, US Embassy and OSISA for their unwavering support in the hard times of an economic meltdown.

Vuyisile Sikelela Hlatshwayo
MISA-Swaziland National Director

Swaziland still struggling with press freedom – Reporters Without Borders

MISA-Swaziland Analysis
6 January 2013

Swaziland has placed 155th on the Reporters Without Borders 2013 World Press Freedom Index, dropping 11 spots since last year.

Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, labeled the small sub-Saharan kingdom as one of “Africa’s predatory censors”. Also earning this tag was Gambia (152on the index), Rwanda (161), Equatorial Guinea (166), Djibouti (167), and Eritrea, which finds itself in last position (179) for the sixth consecutive year.

In all of these countries “media pluralism has been whittled away and criticism of the head of state discouraged,” according to a RWB report released with the index on 29 January 2013.

According to the report King Mswati III of Swaziland – in similar fashion to leaders in the other “predatory” states – keeps an “iron grasp” on his country and a “firm grip on news and information”.

Swaziland, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique in southeastern Africa, is one spot behind Turkey (154th), the Middle Eastern country described as “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”.

One rung below Swaziland on the press index is Azerbaijan (156th), a country of 8 million people in southwestern Asia. Azerbaijan moved up six places simply because in the past year authorities used less violence to suppress opposition voices. “[T]his year [Azerbaijan] just moved back to their appalling former position.”

As for South Africa, Swaziland’s wage-earning older brother next door, RWB notes a steady decline in recent years.

The land of the springbok is now ranked 52nd, slipping ten places from last year. Despite a much greater degree of freedom of information in South Africa, compared to Swaziland, it has for the first time dropped out of the top 50 for press freedom (since the index was first compiled in 2002). The report cites South Africa’s proposed Protection of State Information Bill, otherwise known as the Secrecy Bill, as a threat to that country’s freedom of information.

Things could be worse

The east-African dictatorship Eritrea (179) – where at least 30 journalists are known to be in prison – nudged out North Korea (178) and Turkmenistan (177) to take home its sixth consecutive gong for Worst Performing Press Freedom Country.

Reporters Without Borders describes Eritrea as a “vast open prison for its people” where journalists are left to rot in jail.

“Of the 11 [journalists] incarcerated [in Eritrea] since 2001, 7 have died as a result of prison conditions or have killed themselves,” said RWB.

To the west of Eritrea is Tanzania, which dropped 36 places on the press freedom index – owing to the murder of a journalist and the suspicious death of another in the past year; as well as the government’s refusal to fully open up the newspaper market.

Mali, currently in the grip of a civil war, plummeted 74 places. Somalia continued its downward trend, falling 11 places and now rests uneasily in 175th place – the second-worst African country for press freedom behind Eritrea. Eighteen journalists were killed in Somalia in 2012. Many perished in bomb attacks; others were flatly murdered. It was the deadliest year on record for journalists in the Horn of Africa country.

Other notable mentions in the worst performing category for African media freedom in 2012 were: Cameroon dropped 23 to 120; Lesotho fell 18 places to 81; Guinea-Bissau fell 17 spots to 92; Zimbabwe fell 16 places to 133; South Sudan dropped 13 places to 124; Mozambique fell 7 places to 73; and Sudan remained near the bottom at 170.

Where might Swaziland look for inspiration on press freedom?

According to Reporters Without Borders, Namibia would be a good place to start. The southern African country moved up one place is now ranked 19th on the index – the highest African country.

The BBC website says the Namibian “constitution provides for press freedom and on the whole this is respected by the government… Broadcasters and the private press give coverage to the opposition, including views critical of the government.”

Furthermore, according to the BBC, Namibia has more than 20 private and community radio stations.

Another African country to draw inspiration from is Cape Verde, ranked 25th on the press freedom index. Despite dropping 16 places in 2012, Cape Verde – made up of a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Senegal – does a good job of protecting press freedom by law. “Much of the media is state-run but there is an active private press and a growing number of broadcasters,” says the BBC.

Malawi, to the north of Swaziland, recorded the biggest jump in the press freedom index. It shot up 71 places and is now ranked in 75th spot, close to its 2010 position. The country’s rise can be attributed to the settling of tensions after the political turmoil under the rule of late president Bingu Wa Mutharika. Reporters Without Borders also rewarded west-African country Côte d’Ivoire by moving it up 63 places, now ranked 96th. Though RWB did mention “persistent problems” and the BBC notes the tendency for authorities to abuse their power by turning the press into a vehicle for propaganda.

Côte d’Ivoire’s west-African neighbour, Ghana, maintained its recent strong showing on press freedom. It moved up 11 places to the now healthy ranking of 30. The BBC says Ghana “enjoys a high degree of media freedom and the private press and broadcasters operate without significant restrictions”.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland), a media monitoring NGO that promotes freedom of speech, applauds these African nations that are making progress on press freedom. MISA-Swaziland takes heart from their continued efforts in pressuring public bodies release public information and their renewed call to free citizens’ minds from the yoke of censorship and suppression.

In compiling its index Reporters Without Borders takes into account ‘press freedom measures’ such as how easy or difficult it is to access information and how safe the media environment is for journalists.

“The press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire.

To read the full RWB report click here

Newspaper apologises after public outcry

MISA-Swaziland Statement
4 January 2013

The Times of Swaziland Sunday, a weekly tabloid, has apologised for publishing a photo of a naked diplomat and unethically revealing her identity.

The photo was published on 27 January 2013, accompanying a story about a London-based Swazi diplomat and her former Zimbabwean boyfriend. The former boyfriend – who has sent several naked and intimate photos of the diplomat to Swazi consulates around the world as well as posting the photos online – is blackmailing the diplomat because she allegedly owes him money.

In a statement issued last week, The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog the promotes freedom of speech, said: “It is not unreasonable to suggest that none of this [the story between the two former lovers] should have entered the public domain in the first place”.

But once the story and photo were published, and a person’s private life was unnecessarily being discussed and analysed in public, MISA-Swaziland chose to enter the debate.

Moreover, MISA joined the debate because the government had weighed into the saga, pointing out that the Times had overstepped the mark: rightly pointing out that the tabloid had breached its own code of ethics as well as violating the country’s Constitution, which should protect against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’.

MISA wrote a letter to the editor of Times Sunday, acknowledging the position of government – insofar as the offending story had indeed breached the media code and the nation’s supreme law.

The newspaper was “wrong to run the story and to publish the photo,” said MISA national director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo.

“The reason why this happens – unethical stories and photos get published – is because there is a lot of repression and censorship when it comes to ‘real’ and ‘hard’ news. Therefore, the media has resorted to tabloid journalism, which thrives on scandal. In other words, it is this soft and superficial news which is increasingly creeping into the media. MISA urges the Swazi media to be courageous enough to tackle issues in the public interest, rather than focusing on scandals and stories of insignificance.”

In response to the public’s displeasure and MISA’s letter, the Times Sunday in an editorial comment said: “Attempts were made to ensure that if children were to lay their eyes on the story, they would not see a stark naked woman, hence, blocking the vital parts, including her face. Clearly, these well-intentioned attempts failed – and for that, we apologise.”

The response went on to quote part of MISA-Swaziland’s letter. In doing so the newspaper indirectly admitted that repression and censorship are widespread in Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III since 1986, and this repression goes part of the way in explaining – though not excusing – why tasteless scandals and needless stories too often get published.

MISA-Swaziland applauds the editor’s apology and looks forward to an improved level of reporting, as well as extra consideration given to citizens and readers who might rely on the newspaper for reliable and ethical information. Only with trust – built through accurate, honest and fair reporting – can any media house hope to prosper in the long run.

Times of Swaziland says ‘Free the airwaves’ – MISA Swaziland agrees

MISA-Swaziland Statement
18 December 2012

Swaziland’s only privately-owned newspaper has called for the liberalisation of the Kingdom’s radio airwaves.

In an editorial titled ‘Free the airwaves’, the Times of Swaziland notes that radio is the dominant medium of communication in Africa, yet in Swaziland – a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa bordered by South Africa and Mozambique – options remain limited.

“Radio is dynamic, alive to the issues of the day, changeable as the fashions. In Africa, the age of radio is still very much alive and strong. But not in Swaziland.”

The editorial, which appeared on 18 December 2012, suggests Swaziland should open up its airwaves and allow more players into the government-controlled ‘market’.

“One very simple way that this country could tap into its creative potential – especially economically – would be to allow anyone who wanted to own a radio station to do so.

“Imagine how a health-focused rural radio station would benefit local communities; imagine if every Tinkhundla centre (traditional constituency) had their own radio for community announcements and educational programmes.”

In Swaziland, where music is part of the national fabric, the Times editorial dares to “imagine how the music industry would blossom and nurture our national talent” if the airwaves were freed from stringent and arbitrary state controls.

It should be noted, however, that the Times does not mention stringent and arbitrary government controls as the reason why the airwaves remain stifled.

Nevertheless, the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland) applauds the Times of Swaziland for taking a position on this issue.

As it stands, there is one national radio station in Swaziland – the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS). It acts more as a propaganda tool for the government and traditional authorities than as the public broadcaster is purports to be. There are some worthwhile health programs that air on SBIS, however, on the whole, it a long way from a true and honest public broadcaster that is free to question, criticise, educate, and entertain.

Earlier this year the minister for communications told Swazi citizens they must first clear – or approve – their opinions with their respective chiefs before approaching the radio station.

The Swazi Observer, a state-owned newspaper, reported in August 2012 that “the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service is not allowed to broadcast any public service announcement (PSA) that does not support government’s agenda.

“This is contained in the Public Service Announcement Guidelines of the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS).

“The guidelines were tabled in the House of Assembly by Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Winnie Nxumalo on Monday.

“They are to be observed by both the radio station and the public as they are meant for smooth and professional service to the nation.

“Part of the guidelines read, ‘Any PSA that is negative or does not support government’s agenda shall not be allowed.’”

The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern (MISA-Swaziland), a regional non-governmental organisation that promotes freedom of speech, notes that the actions taken by the minister of communications contradict section 24 (1) of Swaziland’s Constitution: “A person has a right of freedom of expression and opinion.”

More specifically, Section 24 (2) protects “freedom of the press and other media”, and Section 24 (2)(c) protects the “freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons)”.

While freedom of expression is protected under the earlier clauses of Section 24, in practice this freedom is often snatched away by leaders and bureaucrats who invoke Section 24 (3)(a). This latter section permits speech to be curtailed in the name of “defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health”.

MISA believes criticism of the “government’s agenda”, as well as criticism of higher authorities to be in the public interest; for trust in the authorities can only come after that trust has been tested. And MISA further believes that interpreting the Constitution requires emphasis to be placed on certain clauses, thereby allowing a more reasonable course of action

In this case, let MISA state its belief that freedom of speech, in all but legitimate cases of libel and defamation, trumps all other liberties. And freedom of speech, in all but the most rare cases, trumps the often trite defences of public morality or public order, etc. In reality, those who invoke the ‘public morality’ clause, for instance, simply want to suppress information that will embarrass the wealthy and powerful.

Of course there are rare moments when information should not be disclosed – if that information will cause huge harm, for instance, or the information will cause great pain to a suffering victim. But all factors need to be weighed against each other, and in all cases disclosure should be the default option, always bearing in mind that the public has a right to information.

Again, there are fine lines between hate speech, offensive speech, and sincerely held false opinions. And similarly, there are many shades of truth. The best way to find out what is what is to have an open and frank discussion.

To suppress legitimate speech in the name of vaguely worded clauses does nothing to bring Swaziland into the modern world. The only way to work out what terms such as ‘public morality’ or ‘public order’ mean is to freely discuses their meanings.

As Christmas approaches, MISA-Swaziland looks back on a bad year for freedom of expression in the kingdom. Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, in many ways, is incompatible with universal notions of freedom of expression – even though the country is a signatory to most regional and international conventions that protect freedom of expression.

Despite this, MISA-Swaziland remains somewhat optimistic that 2013 will be a better year for freedom and democracy. National elections are to be scheduled for the second half of next year. The world will be keeping an eye on proceedings to see if democracy becomes more than a name. And it would seem that Swazis are beginning to demand more from their unelected leaders. Hunger, poverty and AIDS are taking a toll.

One way to help give Swazis a voice on matters that concern them most is to open up the airwaves. As American civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr said, “riots are the voice of the unheard”. These words ring hollow in the ears of leaders at their own peril.

And a question that Swazis might ask themselves over the festive season, as we sip on a beer and search the dial for more radio stations, is who actually owns the airwaves? If Swazi taxpayer money pays for the radio station, why is it not a true public broadcaster? Why does public money protect state interests and only allow some senior government voices free rein? Why doesn’t the radio operate in the public interest? Why aren’t Swazis getting what they pay for? And why aren’t Swazi citizens allowed a voice to speak on their own radio station?

In short, why pay for something that you don’t own and control?

MISA-Swaziland agrees with the Times editorial when it says: “We have a nation of creative, talented people bursting to express themselves and to tackle the ills of this country, such as poverty.

“Let’s give them more platforms to do so.”

Most Open & Secretive Government Departments in Swaziland 2010-11

MISA-Swaziland investigated the level of openness in several Swaziland government departments in 2010 and 2011

2011: Swaziland’s Constitution (2005), within the Rights and Freedoms provisions, guarantees and protects the right to freedom of information. However, the country does not have Access to Information Legislation. This means that the Government and Public Institutions are not obligated to disclose any information they hold.

The Official Secrets Act of 1961, for example, makes it difficult for the citizens and the media to access information held by Government and Public Institutions.Furthermore, there are no formal procedures for accessing information nor are there known mechanisms in place to appeal against any Government official who, on his own, decides not to disclose information. In the absence of freedom of assembly and association, even though guaranteed in the Constitution, there is an urgent need for free flow of information because presently political formations remained banned and cannot share information with the masses.

Read the full 2011 report here

2010: From the findings, the researchers make the following conclusions:

  • As in the last survey in 2009, Swaziland Government continues to run one of the secretive government institutions in the region. Because of their secretive nature, these government ministries make it difficult for the public to access information in the hands of government.
  • The secrecy extends to the public institutions such as NERCHA and the Swaziland Electricity Company.
  • All government ministries and public institutions surveyed had information in their websites that is irrelevant and non-informative.
  • Swaziland urgently requires Access to Information legislation to force all public institutions to remain accountable to the public and release information at the right time to all citizens of Swaziland.

In this study it was discovered that all institutions share the same characteristic of depriving the citizens of Swaziland the Right to Information. For the year 2010, the Deputy Prime Mister’s Office proved to be very strict in releasing information, even accepting written request. Before reading what was entailed inside the letter, they wanted full details of the person who delivered the letter.

Moreover, it is disturbing that the Ministry of Education has no information on the issue of Free Primary Education, nor any Act about it on their website. The government recently approved a policy on Education in Swaziland but such information is also not available.

Read the full 2010 report here