Swaziland | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Freedom of expression is severely restricted, especially regarding political issues or matters concerning the royal family. There are no de facto legal protections for journalists and media workers in Swaziland. While a new constitution-enacted in July 2005-provides for limited freedom of speech, the king may waive these rights at his discretion. The 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act bans publication of any criticism of the monarchy, and self-censorship is widespread, particularly regarding the king's lavish lifestyle. The Proscribed Publications Act (1968) also empowers the government to ban publications if they are deemed "prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health." The law has been used several times in recent years to punish newspapers that criticized or embarrassed the monarchy. Harsh defamation laws are also used to stifle the press; in July, the Times of Swaziland was ordered to pay Deputy Prime Minister Albert Shabangu a staggering fine of approximately $116,000 for alleging in a 2001 article that Shabangu belonged to a banned political party.

The government warned against negative news coverage throughout 2005. Prime Minister Absalom Themba Dlamini on several occasions stressed the importance of "positive" media coverage and threatened to monitor the press if it continued to cover the government in a sensationalist manner. In addition, journalists are subject to harassment and assault by both state and nonstate actors. In October, Times of Swaziland photojournalist Mkhulisi Magongo was threatened with violence and professional retribution by parliamentarian Maqhawe Mavuso for covering Mavuso's fraud trial. That same month, reporter Douglas Dlamini was slapped by a local football player.

The two major newspapers in circulation are the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer. The Times, founded in 1897, is the oldest newspaper in the kingdom and the only major news source free of government control. Generally, the government withheld its advertising, a crucial source of revenue, from the Times. Despite being owned by a royal conglomerate, the Swazi Observer was shut down temporarily in 2002 because its editorial direction was viewed as too liberal; both newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency in 2005 but steered clear of taking on the royal family. The Swaziland Television Authority is both the state broadcaster and the industry regulatory agency and dominates the airwaves. There is one independent radio station, Voice of the Church, which focuses on religious programming. A member of the royal family owns the country's lone private television station. However, broadcast and print media from South Africa are received in the country, and state broadcasters retransmitted Voice of America and BBC programs without censorship. The government does not restrict internet-based media, though less than 5 percent of the population had access in 2005.