African Media Barometer, 2005-2009

Every two years a panel of media and civil society representatives assess the media landscape using an African-specific measurement system, the African Media Barometer (AMB).

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 laafrican media barometer logowyer Thulani Maseko was arrested and charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, for expressing himself.

Read the full 2009 report here

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.

Read the full 2007 report here

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.

Every two years 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).

Read the full 2005 report here

Times of Swaziland protest coverage, April 2011

12 April 2011 — On a day when pro-democracy protesters were taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers to call for democratic governance, the only independent newspaper in the country, the Times of Swaziland, managed to give government almost free reign to spread their propaganda and discredit the protesters.

Here is a breakdown of how the Times reported the protest. First we list what was said from the gotimes of swaziland logovernment, or traditionalist side, and second, we document was said from the protester, or progressive side.

Research by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)

Read the full report here

Times of Swaziland coverage of HIV/AIDS, September 2010

The most positive feature of the HIV/AIDS coverage during this period was that no story perpetuated stereotypes about people living with HIV/AIDS or about the virus itself. In addition there were no photos of people living with HIV/AIDS that broke confidentiality.

However, the mosSAMSUNGt staggering aspect of the HIV/AIDS reporting was the complete absence of the voices of people affected by HIV/AIDS and the voices of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The absence of these critical voices was coupled with the habit of single sourcing. Nearly two out of three stories had only one source. Where stories warranted the inclusion of sources living with HIV/AIDS or those affected by HIV/AIDS, they were not there.

Fuelling the habit of single sourcing was the habit of giving event summaries, rather than full-bodied stories. A typical story about HIV/AIDS or that mentioned HIV/AIDS was a short summary of an event based on one source, giving no broader context and making no meaningful connections to relevant issues such as poverty and gender-based violence.

Research by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland)

Read the full report here

Coverage of Children in Swaziland’s Media

Coverage of Children in the Swazi Media, June 2010

Poor sourcing of stories remained a challenge though there was a slight reduction in the number of single or no source stories. This time single or no source stories accounted for 33% against 43% in the last study. It  is important that newsrooms eliminate  poorly sourced stories in order to ensure professionalism in journalism.

All stories were event-based and very few quoted laws, policies or statistics on children. For instance, on 1 June 2010 the Observer quoted the Minister for Health, Benedict Xaba, speaking about a government survey that revealed that school girls as young as 13 years had resorted to smoking. Whilst making reference to the survey, the newspaper could have done better by getting hold of the survey report and quoting from it as well instead of relying on the Minister’s speech only.

The Times, on the other hand, did well in a story published on 26 May 2010 in which about 30 primary school girls were given more than 20 lashes each for allegedly being in love relationships. The newspaper, though quoting an official referring to the Corporal Punishment Code  for schools, did cite that the Code limits corporal punishment to five strokes for children. This, therefore, meant that the Sibuyeni Primary School that gave 20 lashes to each of the 30 pupils went against the code.

SAMSUNGAll children interviewed felt marginalised by the local media and wanted to see more content about children and by children across all media. This was also consistent with findings in the previous study, which means the local media has not done anything to meet the children’s expectations since the last study in September 2009.

Research by MISA-Swaziland, funded by Save the Children (Sweden)

Read the full report here

Coverage of Children in the Swazi Media, September 2009

The study revealed that:

  • Children’s voices are mostly absent in Swaziland’s media. The electronic media, in particular, has marginalised children as there are hardly any programmes for children or hosted by young people.
  • The typical children story in the print media was a basic event description. The stories displayed a lack of analysis, rarely citing policies, laws or statistics about children.
  • Single-sourcing of stories has remained a major problem in the media.
  • The majority of stories portrayed children as victims of poverty, hunger and in many cases the children were used as baits to solicit help.

Research by MISA-Swaziland, funded by Save the Children (Sweden)

Read the full report here

Coverage of Children in the Swazi Media, 2007

This paper offers the results of a research project undertaken into the ethical standards of newspapers in the kingdom of Swaziland. In the first published research of its kind in Swaziland, the project takes as its starting point the assertion that journalists have a duty to promote and protect the rights of children. Journalists in Swaziland have created their own codes of conduct which include responsible reporting of issues involving minors, but a qualitative analysis of the Swazi Press reveals that journalists are failing to follow their own code of ethics.

Although Swazi journalists can take some of the blame for the lapse in ethical standards they are influenced by the circumstances prevailing in the kingdom in which they work. Swaziland is mired in corruption and dishonesty in public life is generally overlooked, so it is unsurprising that media practitioners reflect this in their own work.

One cannot also divorce the poor reporting of children from the more general weaknesses of journalism in Swaziland. A survey of the content of newspapers in Swaziland conducted by the media advocacy group MISA concluded, among other things, that there was a lack of diversity in the news, with the majority of reports poorly sourced, over relying on MPs and senators as voices while under representing women. News reports lacked depth of information and some reporting was unfair, failing to permit rejoinders from persons or groups who had an allegation laid against them.

Research By Dr Richard Rooney 

Read the full report here

Censorship in Swaziland’s Media, 2006

There is a long history of censorship of the media in Swaziland. Some of this censorship we know about because it has become public in some way. But there is suspicion that a lot of censorship is taking place that we do not know about.

swaziland flag
The flag of Swaziland

There have been unsubstantiated reports about the existence of censorship, be it imposed or self-censorship, in newsrooms in the kingdom. Journalists themselves, when defending themselves in various forums against accusations of sub-standard journalism and lack of investigative journalism in Swazi media, have often complained of censorship in newsrooms.

This research project concludes that there is widespread censorship in newsrooms in Swaziland. It highlights seven main areas where this censorship is manifest.

A total of 16 media practitioners were interviewed and asked to identify how much censorship existed in Swaziland. They were then questioned about their own personal experiences of censorship.

The research offers both quantitative and qualitative evidence to support its conclusions.

The Swazi monarchy and the poor state of the Swazi economy are identified as the main causes of censorship in Swaziland.

By Dr Richard Rooney, for MISA-Swaziland

Read the full report here

Swazi Journalism and the ‘Muslim Threat’, 2008

This paper reports the findings of a research project undertaken in Swaziland, a small kingdom in southern Africa, that analyses the way in which the press frames Muslims and Islam as a threat to the state and to ordinary people. It begins by analysing three recent stories regarding Muslims:

  • The perception that Muslims were to blame for the changing of the Swaziland constitution.
  • A report that Muslims were enticing university students to convert to Islam in return for scholarships.
  • A public symposium run on the subject of Islam.

It concludes that Swazi newspapers frame Muslims as warlike people who are plotting against the kingdom and who pose a threat to Swazi culture. Islam is also depicted as a religion inferior to Christianity.

By Dr Richard Rooney 

Read the full report here

Political Reporting in Swaziland, 2007

A typical political story in the Swazi media was a basic event description, reported by a male journalist, containing one male government source, and, if biased, favoured government. Coverage of government and political issues was largely superficial and uncritical and captured a limited range of views and voices.

The breadth of content in political coverage was limited. Important political issues such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and democracy were marginalized because political reporting was reactive, that is, it was largely determined by what government said or did. Most political stories were simple descriptions of government statements or activities. Thus rather than questioning the government’s agenda and trying to reshape it, the media’s political coverage  generally reinforced the government’s agenda. The media across the board displayed a chronic lack of information and  analysis.

The focus on describing events rather than examining issues was a key reason for this lack of information, as well as the over-reliance on single-sourced stories and the failure to research, ask the pertinent questions and contextualise
the story. Almost every instance of biased political reporting, regardless of the medium, favoured government. Single sourcing also proved to be the root cause of much of the unbalanced political reporting. The tendency to base stories on one government source increased the risk of biased reporting that favoured government.

Gender balance was sorely lacking in political coverage. Women’s voices were almost non-existent. Political stories were almost exclusively based on the voices and opinions of men.

The dominance of government voices also severely limited the diversity of views expressed in political reporting. Again, the habit of single-sourcing meant there was little effort to seek out the voices of ordinary citizens, expert analysts and  those who might oppose the government view.

The media’s tendency to focus on government voices only was the key contributing factor to the amount of unethical reporting. Telling only the government view sometimes resulted in very subjective reporting where the media simply acted as a mouthpiece for government.

Comparing political coverage across the different media revealed that the best political reporting was found in the Times publications. Notably, the Times reporting had the least ethical violations and the least bias. And yet the Times is Master’s Voice 47 did fall short in many areas. Most obviously the Times did not sufficiently  contextualise political stories, often failed to provide diverse voices and lacked depth of information and analysis.

Classic features of state media reporting were clearly evident in the political coverage of SBIS and Swazi TV. Most stories were very simplistic descriptions of government projects and policies, concentrating on the positive aspects with no critique or opposing comment. The Observer, too, had a tendency to focus on government views, avoid scrutiny and criticism of government and gave scant coverage of politically sensitive stories.

With such a chronic lack of diversity and context across all political coverage, the media failed to foster meaningful political debate and promote critical thinking about government and political issues.

By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for MISA-Swaziland and the Media Monitoring Project, funded by OSISA

Read the full report here

Evaluation of State Broadcasting in Swaziland, 2006

The State has control over the two national broadcasters, Swazi TV and SBIS (radio). The playing field is still not level as there are no community radio stations neither are there privately owned radio stations save for the Christian radio station, the Voice of the Church which is a franchise of Transworld Radio.

One of the major hindrances regarding progress in many a sector in the Kingdom is that the political leaders are not at liberty to take decisions. Even implementation seems hard to come by due to fear that they could trample on the toes of their masters. This is one of the reasons that could be attributed to the delay in the implementation of the Information and Media Policy which would eventually pave the way for the liberalisation of the airwaves and the transformation of the state broadcasters into public service

Worthy of note is that the ministry of public service and information lacks capacity on media policy matters. This is a one factor that is hampering progress. The ministry needs a pragmatist to advise on media related issues. Without the required expertise the ministry is unlikely to come up with sound decisions on the necessary steps to take regarding numerous issues such as the transformation of the state broadcasters into public service entities.

There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to matters regarding the media in the country. Citizens do not have the necessary information on what the media are all about and how they function.

By Dr Maxwell Mthembu, for MISA-Swaziland 

Read the full report here

Coverage of Women in the Swazi Media, 2006

This study is an analysis of Swaziland media’s coverage of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign and gender-based violence and child abuse that were published or broadcast during the campaign period.

The monitoring of gender-based violence and child abuse during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2006 has revealed considerable challenges for the media. It exposed a serious lack of ethical, fair, detailed, analytical and gender-aware reporting. This study demonstrates that the media is not doing enough to challenge gender stereotypes, raise public awareness of gender violence and child abuse, educate women on their rights and urge greater commitment and accountability from government in combating problems.

The findings also indicate that gender activists in Swaziland are struggling to make an impact. Gender prejudices, discrimination and stigma are pervasive. The fact that there was so little in-depth coverage of the campaign shows that gender activists and the media are failing to form strong partnerships.

By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for MISA-Swaziland and GEMSA, funded by OSISA

Read the full study here.

Analysis of Swazi Media, 2006

The study was broken into several topics. The finding were as follows…

The ‘news diet’ (the variety of news content) is limited for two reasons:

  • News content was dominated by one topic – national politics. The dominance of national politics prompts a pertinent question – is it the dominating topic because it ought to be, or is much of the political news being fed to journalists by government and, in fact, of little interest to the public? Unfortunately, analysing the nature of political reporting is outside the scope of this study. It is sufficient to note here that news content was for the most part political during this monitoring period and there were many issues that received very minimal coverage — poverty, economics, human rights, gender, HIV/AIDS — to name a few.
  • The majority of news content originated from one region, Hhohho. This may be explained in part by the fact that politics dominated the news and Hhohho is the political hub. Although, this doesn’t fully explain the imbalance because the number of stories from Hhohho was over double the number of stories on politics. This lack of diversity in news origin may indicate that journalists are too heavily concentrated in the one region and not seeking news from the rest of the country.

There were two findings from the analysis of news quality that are cause for concern:

  • The majority of stories were single-sourced.
  • There was a serious lack of information with most stories containing just one of the six information criteria. These two elements combined – single sources and lack of information – results in news reporting that is of very poor quality. In addition to this, the lack of diversity among sources, with very few experts accessed, indicates the superficial nature of news information and lack of contextualising.

Monitoring gender aspects of the news revealed that women are underrepresented in the media. The marginal role women play raises two questions:

  • Are women actively discouraged from pursuing news reporting?
  • Is the lack of female news sources more a reflection of society or a reflection of the media’s failure to actively seek female sources?

There was a range of ethical violations taking place throughout the monitoring period. Almost half of these violations occurred in stories about child abuse or gender-based violence where the report failed to protect the victim and/or trivialised the event. This raises questions about the level of awareness among journalists of the need to report these issues responsibly and sensitively and, in particular, the standard of editing in the newspapers.

Fairness. The fact that there were 13 cases of unfair reporting in just two weeks is cause for serious concern. Unfair media coverage is extremely damaging not just to the subject, but to the media itself – bringing into question its integrity. Indeed, unfair reporting is often used by authorities to curtail freedom of expression and the right to access information. The monitoring revealed that the instances of unfair reporting can be reduced if journalists commit to seeking rejoinders from people who have a serious allegation laid against them, abstain from passing judgment on suspects and avoid damaging/demeaning language when writing about news subjects.

Research by MISA-Swaziland and the Media Monitoring Project, funded by OSISA

Read the full report here