Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 24
Political Environment: 27
Economic Environment: 25
Total Score: 76
|Total Score, Status
Swaziland's absolute monarchy continued to exert strict state control over the media in 2009.
Freedom of expression is restricted, especially regarding political issues or the royal family.Of six media bills proposed along with a new constitution in 2007, only one – a Media Commission Bill that calls for strict government regulation of the media sector, including stringent accreditation and registration requirements for outlets and journalists – is being considered by parliament.
There are very few legal protections for journalists and media workers, and harsh defamation laws are used to stifle the press. In March 2009, a weekly columnist for the Times of Swaziland was fined an undisclosed number of cattle for insulting the king.
However, in recent years the courts have dismissed a number of defamation penalties and overturned attempts to limit media coverage of political or culturally sensitive issues.
The government routinely warns against negative news coverage, and journalists are subject to harassment and assault by both state and nonstate actors. Journalists including the editor of the Times of Swaziland, Mbongeni Mbingo, were summoned by authorities in May 2009 after reporting on an angry verbal exchange between Senate President Gelane Zwane and Senator Ndileka Dlamini. In June, organizers at an HIV/AIDS workshop dismissed journalists who were covering the event after complaints from members of Parliament. In August the prime minister threatened to close media outlets that reported on an upcoming royal trip. Finally, in September, the Senate president directly threatened a Times of Swaziland journalist who was covering a parliamentary proceeding with professional retribution. As a result of such threats, many journalists practice self-censorship on sensitive subjects.
There are two major newspapers in circulation, one independent and the other generally progovernment. Both continued to criticize government corruption and inefficiency in 2009, but avoided negative coverage of the royal family. At least two recently introduced publications were threatened with closure in 2009 for failing to register with the government, a procedure that requires the purchase of a US$100 bond.
The Swaziland Television Authority, which is both the state broadcaster and the industry regulator, dominates the airwaves and generally favors the government in its coverage.
There is one government-owned radio station and one independent radio station, Voice of the Church, which focuses on religious programming. Four radio license applications approved in 2008 were disqualified by the Swaziland Radio Regulator in 2009 for failing to meet all 12 of the regulator's evaluation criteria. However, Swazis with sufficient funds could freely purchase and use satellite dishes to receive signals from both independent South African and international news media.
The government does not restrict internet-based media, though only 7.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2009.
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