Meanwhile, there is evidence that journalists in private media are not only compromised by politicians but also ‘brown envelope journalism’ where media practitioners are given money or other financial benefits to push or hide information or stories.
Practitioners in state-run media have no editorial independence and are considered civil servants and are expected to abide by government orders.
The findings are contained in Assessment of Media Development in Swaziland, the most comprehensive report ever published on journalism and development in Swaziland.
UNESCO reported that in a survey journalists were asked, ‘Have you ever been faced with attempts by external actors (whether political or commercial) to interfere in the editorial content of an article or programme that you re working on?’ A total of 65 percent of the journalists interviewed answered ‘Yes, more than once.’ Another 5 percent answered, ‘Yes.’ A further 15 percent had no answer to the question.
UNESCO reported the number of respondents who had no answer, ‘may suggest that some respondents might have been responding with caution out of fear of reprisal.’
It added, ‘These results suggest lack of editorial independence in both private and state media and two recent cases illustrate this. In 2014, the government interfered with the editorial independence of the privately-owned Times of Swaziland as well as the state broadcaster. The government ordered the former, Times of Swaziland, to retract a story about the spending of E208 million (US$20,800,000) by the authorities reportedly sourced from Principal Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Khabonina Mabuza, to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Parliament.
‘In another case, the management of the state broadcaster suspended information officer, Thandiswa Ginindza, from air after she broadcast a live interview with the Chairman of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and Member of Parliament, Jan Sithole, on the country’s disqualification from benefitting from the USA’s African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). A controversy surrounded the number of benchmarks that Swaziland required to meet before being reinstated as a beneficiary. But the main reason for her suspension was that MPs are banned from using the state broadcaster.’
UNESCO also reported that in an interview, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations (SCCCO) Director, Lomcebo Dlamini, ‘observed that the editorial independence of the private media is not only compromised by political pressure but also by “brown envelope journalism” where media practitioners are given money or other benefits to push or hide information or stories.’
It quoted Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, National Director of Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter, who said even in the private media editorial independence was compromised by editors and media owners who had ‘a cosy relationship’ with the government and big corporations. ‘The private media owners and editors ingratiate themselves with big corporations that reciprocate with handing out freebies to the editors and journalists. Such tendencies not only compromise the editorial independence of the media but also contravene Article 3(1) of the Code of Ethics for Journalists which states that: “Journalists should not accept bribes or any form of inducement to influence the performance of his/her professional duties,”’ UNESCO reported.
It also reported that Swazi TV and radio ‘are effectively departments of the civil service and government mouthpieces acting more as a vehicle for development’.
It added, ‘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.’
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