The Swaziland Government’s spokesperson has admitted that it is powerless to stop people in the kingdom setting up their own Internet radio stations.
Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has strict controls over the media. Nearly all broadcasting is state-controlled with news and speech programmes heavily censored. The one independent TV station and one independent radio station in Swaziland self-censor so that no criticism of King Mswati and his supporters are allowed on the airwaves.
Swazi Governments have for many years refused to allow new radio stations – especially community stations – to operate so it can control what Swazi people are allowed to hear and say on air.
But a new station called Radio Sikuphe has challenged this. It broadcasts on the Internet and also on a low-powered transmitter inside Swaziland.
Earlier this month, Government Spokesperson Percy Simelane said Radio Sikuphe was broadcasting illegally on land and on the Internet, but now he has been forced to backtrack.
In a statement to local newspapers Simelane said it was not illegal to broadcast over the Internet. ‘If they are using internet and nowhere at any point do they use the country’s frequency then they are off the hook,’ he is reported saying.
He added it would still be illegal for Radio Sikhuphe to broadcast over the air in Swaziland, even if it was only doing so for short distances.