7 March 2019

Swaziland: First Community Radio Station Registered in Swaziland After 19 Years Trying

Lubombo has become the first community radio station to be registered in Swaziland / eSwatini after 19 years of trying. It still has to apply for and be granted a licence before it can start broadcasting.

Nearly all broadcast media in Swaziland is state controlled and they operate as a propaganda arm for King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

Lubombo Community Radio made the announcement of registration on its Facebook site, saying it hoped to mobilise resources so it could apply for the licence to operate. Lubombo which is in eastern Swaziland has in the past been granted a one-day licence to broadcast events surrounding the King's birthday.

A 'community' radio station is usually a non-profit service that is owned and managed by the particular community the radio station serves. If such stations were set up in in Swaziland and truly served the interests of their community they would challenge the present news media that is dominated by the needs of political, social and business elites in the kingdom.

At present in Swaziland the broadcast news agenda is manipulated in favour of King Mswati. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections in Swaziland and the King appoints the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as well as top civil servants and judges. No opposition to the King or his government is allowed on the airways.

A report from UNESCO called Assessment of Media Development in Swaziland, and published in 2017, revealed the extent to which news is manipulated. It 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.'

It stated, 'In the case of the SBIS [Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services], 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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