Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Swaziland
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 1998|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Swaziland, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56550c.html [accessed 21 August 2014]|
Swaziland is the only country in southern Africa without a constitution. King Mswati III rules by a decree passed in 1973 which effectively nullified the 1968 constitution and prohibited political activity and freedom of expression. Over the last two years, however, the country has been going through intense labor and political unrest. There have been calls for constitutional reform, but the king has remained unmoved and instead has resorted to intimidation tactics to quash dissent.
Government censorship and pressure continue to stifle the press. In February, the cabinet ordered a blanket ban on state-controlled radio and television broadcasters' coverage of a national labor strike. And in April, the Minister of Public Service and Information, Muntu Mswane, issued a stern warning to an increasingly frustrated press to stop reporting on antigovernment organizations, citing the 1973 decree barring the media from covering news events involving opposition parties. The harassment of journalists working for government-owned media intensified during an April 12 political rally organized by opposition parties to protest the 1973 decree and mark the 24th year of the state of emergency.
In October, as dismayed journalists looked on, the cabinet approved a media council bill which would give it even tighter control over the press. Journalists or publications found by a seven-member media council to have committed a serious breach of ethics could be ordered to publish the council's findings, issue a retraction, publish an apology, or be deregulated. Journalists who fail to comply could face a fine of up to 15,000 rand (US$3,200) or five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 rand (US$21,000). Media owners would risk hefty fines or up to seven years in jail if they publish a newspaper without first receiving accreditation from the media council. But in a stunning reversal at the end of the year, the government, which had seemed intent on steamrollering the bill through parliament without any outside consultation, gave in to intense media pressure and allowed the bill to be reviewed by a special committee.