17 April 2018

Swaziland: Editor Wants Media Freedom Inquiry

Zweli Martin Dlamini, the editor who had his newspaper closed down by the Swaziland Government before he fled to neighbouring South Africa, has called for an international commission of inquiry into how the state has captured the media in the kingdom.

The media, even those not directly owned and controlled by the government, have become a 'propaganda machine for the state,' he said.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are barred from taking part in elections and pro-democracy groups have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Freedom of expression and assembly are severely curtailed.

There are only two daily newspapers in Swaziland and one - the Swazi Observer - is in effect owned by the King. The state controls nearly all broadcasting.

Dlamini wrote in The Swaziland, an online newspaper he has launched from South Africa, that government has banned members of political parties from being interviewed by the media in Swaziland.

He wrote, 'This does not only undermine the right to information but [is] a gross violation of journalistic norms and ethical standards. It is not our duty as the media to promote or discredit the current system of governance but we need to give a voice even to political parties as part of our mandate to inform the public.'

'The fundamental principles and values of journalism suggests that the media should independently disseminate accurate information to enable citizens to make informed decisions regarding issues that impact their welfare either politically, economically, socially or otherwise. It is therefore unjust for the Swazi government to turn the media into its propaganda machine that seek to mislead the public that the current system of Governance is democratic when the situation on the ground suggests that citizens of the country are oppressed.'

Dlamini said journalists were being intimidated. 'Traditional leaders are quick to analyse articles and describe them as unSwazi or in conflict with the unwritten Swazi Law and Custom thus forcing editors to be fined cattle as an apology to the King. This tendency of using the name of the King to intimidate the media has promoted corruption with impunity in the public administration and it is slowly turning Swaziland into [a] lawless State.'

He added, 'The continuous attack of the media by the government of Swaziland by arresting journalists and closing newspapers that publish critical articles about those in power demonstrates the need for the international community to start questioning the way our country is governed.

'It would be commendable for international human rights organisations to call for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry whose terms of reference should include investigating the media capture.'

Dlamini owned and edited Swaziland Shopping, a newspaper aimed at businesses, that was forced to close in December 2017 because its registration under the Books and Newspapers Act 1963 had been declined by the Swazi Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (MICT). This happened even though the newspaper had been publishing since 2014.

Dlamini fled to South Africa after a tip-off that he was to be arrested because he had upset the powers in the kingdom with articles in the newspaper critical of people close to King Mswati.

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