11 February 2013

Swaziland: Swazi King 'Predatory Media Censor'

Swaziland's King Mswati III has been named as one of the world's most predatory censors in a media freedom report just published.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) says King Mswati is among a group of six heads of state who 'are members of an exclusive club of authoritarian African leaders, some eccentric, others stern, who hold their countries in an iron grasp and keep a firm grip on news and information'.

In the report on world press freedom, Swaziland is placed at 155 among 179 nations in the world.

RWB secretary-general Christophe Deloire said, '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'.

The report tells us nothing new. Human Rights Watch reported in February 2012 that Swazi Journalists and the media faced continued threats and attacks by the authorities and that self-censorship in media was widespread.

In a report it said, 'The government has passed draconian security legislation such as the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, which severely curtails the enjoyment of freedom of expression, among other rights, and allows for extensive imprisonment without the option of a fine if one is found guilty. The act has been used to harass activists and conduct searches of their homes and offices.'

An overview of press freedom in Swaziland published by Swazi Media Commentary to mark World Press Freedom Day in May 2012 highlighted two main themes of media freedom in Swaziland: censorship of the mainstream journalism and government attempts to silence social media, such as Facebook.

Most mainstream media in Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, are state controlled. Censorship on state TV and radio is common and one of Swaziland's two daily newspapers is in effect owned by King Mswati.

The Times of Swaziland is only one independent newspaper group in the kingdom and this censors itself when reporting about the Swazi royal family. Its publisher Paul Loftler is on record saying that Swaziland does not need democracy.

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