2 August 2017

Swaziland: No Chance of Open Broadcasts

A call by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) for the Swazi Government to open up television and radio to critical voices will certainly fall on deaf ears.

TUCOSWA said this would allow important issues affecting the kingdom to be addressed.

Radio and television in Swaziland, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is highly censored.

In June 2015, a report tabled at the Swaziland Parliament revealed that censorship at Swazi Television was so tight that every month the Swaziland Government issued directives to the station about what events it should cover.

And, the Government had also banned ordinary members of parliament from appearing on the news programmes of Swazi TV.

At the time, Bongani 'Sgcokosiyancinca' Dlamini, the Chief Executive of Swazi TV said the instructions had been given to the station in advance of the 2013 national elections by then Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Winnie Magagula.

His revelation was contained in a report tabled by Hhukwini MP Saladin Magagula, chairperson of the House of Assembly select committee investigating the media ban imposed on MPs on state-owned media.

According to a report in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, Dlamini said, 'It was communicated to the station that any activity outside of government's calendar cannot be featured as news and that government's calendar is sent monthly by the press officer in Cabinet and it is normally updated in between.'

Swazi TV is one of only two television stations in Swaziland and is under state control. The other station, Channel S is privately-owned, but has a stated editorial policy to always support King Mswati.

Censorship of radio and television in Swaziland is not new. In August 2014 Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the Swaziland Government would not let up on its control of state radio, He said state media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.

In August 2012 the government announced that in advance of the national election in September 2013 radio would be banned from broadcasting news and information that did not support the government's own agenda.

All radio in the kingdom, except one Christian station that does not broadcast news, is state-controlled.

New guidelines also barred 'public service announcements' unless they were 'in line with government policy' or had been authorised 'by the chiefs through the regional administrators' or deputy prime minister's office'.

The guidelines said the radio stations could not be 'used for purposes of campaigning by individuals or groups, or to advance an agenda for political, financial popularity gains for individuals or groups'.

There is a long history of censorship on state broadcasting in Swaziland. Strikes and anti-government demonstrations are usually ignored by broadcasters. Sometimes live radio programmes are censored on air. In July 2011, the plug was pulled on a phone-in programme when listeners started criticising the government for its handling of the economy. Percy Simelane, who was then the boss of SBIS, and went on to become the government's official spokesperson, personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.

In April 2011, Welile Dlamini, a long-time news editor at SBIS, challenged the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini at an editors' forum meeting on why the state radio station was told by the government what and what not to broadcast. Welile Dlamini said that at the station they were instructed to spike certain stories such as those about demonstrations by progressives and strike action by workers. The PM responded by saying editors should resign if they were not happy with the editorial policies they are expected to work with.

In March 2011, SBIS stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati III. In the same month, SBIS failed to cover the march by nurses that forced the Swazi Government into paying them overdue allowances.

In 2010, Swazi police told SBIS it must stop allowing people to broadcast information about future meetings unless the police had given permission. Jerome Dlamini, Deputy Director of the SBIS said this was to stop the radio station airing an announcement for a meeting that was prohibited.

He said, 'It's the station's policy not to make announcements without police permission.'

In 2006, the minister for public service and information, Themba Msibi, warned the Swazi broadcasters against criticising the King.

MISA reported at the time, 'The minister's threats followed a live radio programme of news and current affairs in which a human rights lawyer criticised the King's sweeping constitutional powers.'

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, had been asked to comment on a visit by an African Union (AU) human rights team which was on a fact-finding mission to Swaziland.

'In response, Maseko said that, as human rights activists, they had concerns about the King's sweeping constitutional powers and the fact that he the King was wrongfully placed above the Constitution. He said they were going to bring this and other human rights violations to the attention of the AU delegation.

'Not pleased with the broadcast, the government was quick to respond. Msibi spoke on air the following day to sternly warn the media against criticising the King. He said the media should exercise respect and avoid issues that seek to question the King or his powers.

'The minister said his message was not directed only to radio but to all media, both private and government-owned. He said that in government they had noticed that there was growing trend in the media to criticise the King when he should be above criticism and public scrutiny,' MISA reported.

Maseko, a long-time campaigner for human rights, was jailed for two years along with Nation Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu in July 2014 for writing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

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