MISA-Swaziland (Mbabane)

26 August 2014

Swaziland: Govt Maintains Tight Grip On National Broadcasters

press release

Swaziland minister for information, communication and technology Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the national TV and radio stations are primarily there to serve the interests of the state, reported daily newspaper Times of Swaziland last week.

The national television station, Swazi TV, and the national radio station, SBIS, are both controlled by government. Official censorship as well as pervasive self-censorship by those working for the broadcasters allows the state to control the content to ensure criticism of the nation's leaders is kept off air.

Several members of parliament, however, have been calling for free speech on the broadcasters and to transform them into platforms that serve the interests of the people, rather than the government.

"Members of Parliament (MPs), during the recent portfolio committee debates in Parliament for the various government ministries, expressed to the minister (for ICT) the need for the State mediums to be turned into public broadcasters," reported the Times of Swaziland.

"Manzini North MP Jan Sithole, who raised this matter, said currently, the mediums -- which are the biggest in the country -- are only operated the way the State wanted. 'They only cover news which the State wants covered and they are not open to the public as they should, yet they are run with taxpayers' money,' said Sithole."

The article continued: "The MP [Sithole] also raised concern about the silent censorship of politicians by the State media, since no MP is ever interviewed or shown on TV."

Swaziland's lack of respect for free speech and differing opinions has been in the spotlight in recent months. On July 25 prominent editor of the Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maskeo were both sentenced to two yeas in jail (without the option of a fine) on criminal contempt of court charges. Both writers had criticised the nation's controversial judiciary in opinion articles and pointed out several irregularities in how chief justice Michael Ramodibdei has been operating. Read more about Ramodiebi's own legal battles by clicking here.

Ramodibedi, who is from Lesotho, recently resigned from a senior judicial position in that country in the face of an impending impeachment trial. Many local and international groups continue to call for Ramodibedi to step down from his judicial posting in Swaziland.

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