22 February 2018

Swaziland: Police Go After TV Licence Dodgers

A team of 26 police officers and 10 prosecutors in Swaziland is poised to force people to buy licences to watch the heavily-censored state-controlled television.

TV Licence Consortium Project Manager Modicai Donga said inspections would be of residential and business premises. In Swaziland a person with a television set or video recorder needs a licence by law.

There are only two television channels in Swaziland: one is commercial; the other, Swazi TV is state-run. Satellite television bought by subscription is also available in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. People are required to have licences even if they never watch Swazi TV.

Censorship at Swazi TV is so tight that every month the Swaziland Government issues directives to the station about what events it should cover. This was revealed in a report tabled at the Swaziland Parliament.

Bongani 'Sgcokosiyancinca' Dlamini, the Chief Executive of Swazi TV said the instructions had been given to the TV 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 in 2015. It was investigating a media ban imposed on MPs on state-owned media.

According to a report in the Swazi Observer at the time, 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.'

Dlamini also said there was a ban on MPs appearing on the news. He said the ban had meant to stop MPs appearing on TV during the run-up to the September 2013 national election. In Swaziland, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all candidates stand as individuals. The ban was not lifted after the election.

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

Government also controls all radio in the kingdom (except one Christian station that does not broadcast news) through the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS).

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.

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 March 2011, SBIS stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati.

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.'

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