The Swaziland Government has tightened its grip on censorship in the kingdom, a local media watchdog reported.
In 2012, the government tabled the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Guidelines in the Swazi Parliament.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland chapter said, ‘The sole objective is to tighten the grip of unbridled censorship on the media.’
MISA in a review of 2012 also reported the government banned Acting Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa (considered to be the leading traditionalist in the kingdom) from making a national statement on state media, Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS) radio and Swazi Television.
In Swaziland most radio and television is state-controlled and news and features are heavily censored. King Mswati III rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In its report on government censorship, MISA said, ‘It has banned blacklisted civil society groups, ministers and legislators from using the state media.
‘Chiefs have to sanction the opinions of their subjects before they can be aired on the radio.
‘By enforcing the PSA Guidelines, Government violates the rights of Swazi citizens to media freedom.’
It added, ‘MISA is concerned that Government continues to violate freedom of expression though it is party to regional and international human rights instruments.’
There is a long history of censorship on SBIS. Strikes and antigovernment demonstrations are usually ignored by the radio. Sometimes live 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 is now the government’s official spokesperson, personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.
In April 1 2011, Welile Dlamini, a long-time news editor at SBIS, challenged Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini at an editors’ forum meeting on why the state radio station was told by the government what and what not to broadcast. Dlamini said that at the station they were instructed to spike certain stories such as those about demonstrations by progressives and strike action by workers. The PM responded by saying editors should resign if they were not happy with the editorial policies they are expected to work with.
In March 2011, SBIS temporarily stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati III. In the same month, SBIS failed to cover the march by nurses that forced the Swazi Government into paying them overdue allowances.
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.