27 May 2018

Swaziland: Censorship Total At Swazi State Media

The extent to which state media in Swaziland is censored to control people's understanding of what is going on in the kingdom, has been revealed by UNESCO.

The news agenda is manipulated in favour of absolute monarch King Mswati III. No opposition to the government is allowed on the airways and media practitioners in state-run media are civil servants first and journalists second, it reported.

In Swaziland all radio stations except one that does not report news is state-controlled. The largest of two TV stations in Swaziland is also state-controlled.

The report, Assessment of Media Development inSwaziland, is the most comprehensive study of journalism and development in Swaziland ever published.

The report stated, there is a 'lack of editorial independence in the state-controlled broadcast media'. It added, 'Swazi TV and radio are effectively departments of the civil service and government mouthpieces acting more as a vehicle for development.

'In the case of the SBIS, which operates the radio station, the broadcast journalists are considered civil servants first and journalists second. As they are employed as information officers, they are part of the civil service and are thus expected to abide by the Government General Orders.

'As government information officers they are expected to censor disruptive or critical information likely to compromise national security and frustrate government's realisation of socioeconomic development goals, which clearly contravenes the spirit of editorial independence.

'In addition, the ICT [Information, Communications and Technology] Ministry has invoked the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Guidelines to control the state broadcasters. These guidelines bar all Swazi citizens, irrespective of their status, from airing their opinions on the radio and television stations before their opinions have been cleared by their chiefs. Thinly veiled as public announcement guidelines, the PSA guidelines regulate all operations and activities of the state broadcasters.'

It said no PSA is allowed on air, 'that is negative or does not support Government's agenda'.

UNESCO reported, 'According to the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services Code of Conduct and Operational Procedures of 1987, all state events and occasions which involve the presence of the King, Indlovukazi (Queen Mother) and Prime Minister shall receive priority coverage.

'Article 3 of the same code stipulates that SBIS is a national radio station fully supported by the government and therefore broadcasters must abide by the policies and should not allow their political affiliations to intrude into broadcast messages.'

UNESCO reported this was contrary to international standards on public service broadcasting, 'which caters for all people irrespective of their social or economic status in society. It provides programming for everyone; be it the general public or minority audiences.'

Broadcasting, UNESCO reported, should be, 'A meeting place where all citizens are welcome and considered equals. It is an information and education tool; accessible to all and meant for all, whatever their social or economic status.'

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