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Thursday, 6 December 2007

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

This Blog is on holiday, returning Monday 7 January 2008.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

NO CHANGE IN SWAZI PRESS FREEDOM

I wrote recently about how two newspapers and one magazine were closed down by the authorities in Swaziland because ruling elites, including King Mswati III, did not like what they were saying.

The trouble the Swazi Observer, the Swazi Guardian and the Nation found themselves in were not isolated incidents. Swaziland has a long dishonourable history of attacks on press freedom.

One organisation that has been monitoring these attacks is the International Press Institute (IPI). Each year it publishes a report on Swaziland detailing how the freedom of the press is under attack.

The IPI has put annual reviews of the position in Swaziland dating back to 1997 on the Internet. They make depressing reading because they show that not much has changed in the kingdom over the past decade.

Here as a slice of history is the IPI report on Swaziland for 1997. You can see for yourself that the same old issues occur. For instance, the Media Council Bill was a hot topic and so was media regulation.

1997 World Press Freedom Review

The climate for the press deteriorated dramatically in this African nation during 1997, sparking fury among journalists at the government's attempts to control both the public and the private media.

The Media Council Bill was introduced in Parliament on October 3 and numerous objections have been raised by journalists and other workers in Swaziland. The Bill seeks to entrench government control over the media through the introduction of a government-appointed media council, with which all journalists wishing to practise in Swaziland would have to register. The council will also be responsible for enforcing a government-drafted code of ethics. The Bill lays down prison terms and fines for journalists contravening the law.

The government's approval of a Media Regulation Bill, despite protests from journalists and other organisations in Swaziland, shows the insensitivity of the authorities. It seeks to introduce a media council appointed by a government minister, which will license and arbitrate in media complaints. The council has power to enforce a government drafted code of ethics, de-register journalists, and fine or imprison them for violating the proposed law. It will also set minimum qualifications for a journalist to be licensed. These will include O-level examination passes and a journalism certificate.

On October 7, Swaziland journalists took to the streets to protest against the Bill. Incensed scores of angry journalists from the country’s five media houses -The Times of Swaziland, Swazi Observer, Nation Magazine, Broadcasting and Information Services and Television Broadcasting Corporation - marched to the Prime Minister’s Office to protest.

Mbuso Mtsenjwa, President of The National Association of Journalists (NAJ), demanded that the Prime Minister, Dr Sibusiso Dlamini, withdraw the media Bill, and vowed that the association would fight the matter in court.

A human rights activist, Simon Noge, said the country's media had been comprised into toeing the government line and the media Bill would worsen the situation.

The Information Minister, Muntu Msawane, insisted that the Media Bill was aimed at promoting professionalism. He said journalists, as professionals, needed to behave rationally and not make unfounded statements. He pledged that the government would not infringe the rights of journalists: ‘Swaziland boasts free media and we intend to maintain that’, he said.

However, Swazi journalists did not accept these reassurances. They argued that the government would effectively dictate to journalists what to write - or the reporters would risk having their accreditation withdrawn. Journalists who fail to toe the line will face a fine or a jail term of five years while the publishers would also risk substantial fines. Anyone who continues to publish, distribute or disseminate a banned publication risked maximum prison term of seven years or a fine.

The press were by no means the only victims in Swaziland this year. The authorities were also accused of human rights violations, cracking down brutally on political dissent.

The authorities announced plans to block the transmission of South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) programmes in Swaziland. The blackout was privately seen as an attempt to stop Swazis from tuning into anti-Swaziland programmes - although the move was officially described as a cost-cutting measure.

The director of Swaziland Television, Mike Cornwell, then announced that his station had suspended its intention to stop the transmission of SABC channels. Cornwell first announced the blackout on October 15, saying his station would switch off the transmitter which makes it possible to view the SABC channels because it was costly to run.

However, it was largely believed that public protests forced Swazi TV to suspend the decision.


IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

See also
LONG HISTORY OF SWAZI CENSORSHIP

Monday, 3 December 2007

START TO GENDER ABUSE CAMPAIGN

Swaziland’s Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence campaign got off to a good start in the Times Sunday.

The United Nations campaign which runs from 25 November (International Women’s Day) to 10 December (Human Rights Day) is designed to raise awareness about the problem and impact of violence on women and children.

To mark the start of the campaign the Times Sunday (25 November 2007) ran two pages of articles about a four-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped.

The Times Sunday reported that the man who is said to have raped the child was caught but community members let him go free with a warning. He later raped an eight-year-old and a four-year-old. It transpired that members of the community knew the man had a record of raping children.

The man has now been arrested and faces two charges of rape and indecent assault.

This was an important story and it was right for the Times Sunday to publish it even though the subject matter is distressing. It is important that the public knows that these things are going on. It is also important to know that many members of the community don’t believe the crime of child rape to be important enough to turn the alleged rapist over to the police.

The Times Sunday reported that the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) had registered its surprised that people could keep quiet about such an incident.

As part of its coverage of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence the Times Sunday also gave information to help parents who might find that their child has been the victim of child sexual abuse.

Also included were statistics about how much violence against women and children take place in Swaziland.

According to its own figures, women were the highest number of SWAGAA clients in the past year with 1,453 of them attended for counselling services. There were 547 males who were counselled and only 427 children.

A total of 242 women were subjected to physical abuse. High numbers on sexual abuse were on the girl child with 172 cases reported while boy children sodomised were 11.

SWAGAA records that lovers are the most perpetrators of violence with 34 per cent of reported cases.

The reports in the Times Sunday also included personal testimony from a gender activist who was herself sexually molested by a male nurse while in labour pains at a hospital. She said, ‘I am a gender activist, I’m an anti abuse advocate, I’m everything that represents an “empowered woman”. I kept wondering to myself, what could have gone wrong, what made me keep silent about this terrible experience that still makes me disgusted even 15 months down the line.’

Interestingly, she said that she was afraid to tell anyone about the assault in case the newspapers got hold of the story. She said this about the fear of the media. ‘I can remember imagining the news headlines “ABC employee raped” “Gender activist sexually assaulted during labour” “Activist claims to be raped”

She may have had some justification for her fears. The headline that the Times Sunday gave to her story was sensational. ‘Gender Activist Breaks her silence: I was sexually molested’