In 2011 freelance journalist Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, who is also National Director of MISA-Swaziland, completed a masters in media studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The full title of the study is ‘The reality of media freedom in Swaziland under the new constitutional dispensation’. Read on below for the introduction to the study, or click here to read the full document
Media freedom remains a hotly contested topic worldwide. This is evidenced by the competing understandings of media freedom. Authoritarian theorists advocate restrictions on media freedom. Liberal pluralists argue in favour of a media totally free from the state. Social responsibility theorists favour a socially responsive media in society. Political economists prefer a media system that is not just free from state control, but most importantly, free from the control of big business.
In Africa, the different understandings of media freedom have caused tension between the state, media, business and civil society. The state of media freedom is far from uniform throughout African countries. It varies from one African state to another even where the constitution guarantees freedom of the media.The parameters of media freedom in Africa are defined by the social, economic and political realities.
In Swaziland the passage of the Constitution in 2005 was characterised by both cheer and uncertainty within society in general and in particular the media. As it provides for a Bill of Rights, the media fraternity viewed it as a launch-pad for advancing the cause for media freedom. Uncertainty was later generated by the occasional failure by the state and business to recognise and respect the fundamental rights protected and guaranteed by the Constitution. Among media practitioners this raises the difficult question of how the freedom articulated in the Bill of Rights will be realised in practice.
This study sets out to determine whether or not media freedom exists in Swaziland under the constitutional dispensation. It applies content analysis of two leading daily newspapers to explore the extent of editorial freedom and also semi-structured interviews to access the views on the state of media freedom of the media practitioners, media management, government, civil society and legislators.
For purposes of document analysis, it audits the different laws, policies, code of ethics and international and regional human rights instruments that Swaziland has signed and ratified. The study concludes that there is still lack of media freedom in Swaziland under the new constitutional dispensation. Its significant finding is that the lack of media freedom is a consequence of constitutional, legal and extra-legal constraints. These constraints have bred widespread censorship, self-censorship and interference in the media houses.