The Government in Swaziland has a ‘vice-like’ grip on broadcast media in the kingdom and nearly all radio content is censored, a report just published said.
No announcement ‘that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda’ is allowed, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) revealed.
In an overview of media freedom in 2013, MISA said in Swaziland Swazi TV and the state radio Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), ‘act as government propaganda mouthpieces’.
It added, the only privately-owned TV channel in Swaziland, Channel Swazi (Channel S), ‘has not added much value in terms of media diversity or independence’.
It added, ‘Channel Swazi has only survived by outdoing the state-owned broadcasters in kowtowing to the authorities and influential people. Owing to severe State and self-censorship, when criticism is offered by much of the media it is often offered in defence of the King.’
King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties cannot contest elections in the kingdom and most are banned outright. Pro-democracy campaigners are harassed and imprisoned and freedom of speech and assembly is severely curtailed.
In its report called So This is Democracy? MISA reported, ‘Government maintained its vice-like grip on the state-controlled broadcast media.’
Members of parliament and government ministers were prevented from speaking on state radio and TV by the Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini. He used the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Guidelines for broadcasting to ban any announcement ‘that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda’.
MISA reported, ‘The government invoked the PSA guidelines not only to suppress dissenting voices but also to suppress the voices of Members of Parliament in the State broadcasters.
‘The legislators felt the guidelines were meant to frustrate them as they were accused of using radio to campaign.
‘The ban imposed during election campaigns drove MP Masende Zwane to tears as he pleaded with the PM to lift it, claiming it frustrated progress and the free flow of information.
‘MP Zwane was stopped from making public announcements on State radio. The head of government did not budge an inch.
‘The ban also affected ministers who were told to slow down on the usage of national radio in the lead up to the national elections. According to Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku this was done to avoid a situation where some people would have unfair advantage, because not everyone would have access to national radio.
‘Ministers were only allowed to speak on official business. Even before then, they would have to seek permission from the deputy prime minister’s office. These measures effectively gagged election candidates in the broadcast media.’