Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of expression is severely restricted in Swaziland, especially regarding political issues or matters concerning the royal family. There are very few legal protections for journalists and media workers in Swaziland. While a new constitution—which went into effect in February 2006—provides for 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 1968 Proscribed Publications Act 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. In a potentially positive development, in April the government announced that it had hired consultants to assist in the drafting of the kingdom’s first freedom of information legislation.
Harsh defamation laws are also used to stifle the press. In 2006, the Times of Swaziland lost three separate defamation cases and was ordered to pay damages to the government’s United Nations envoy, a member of Parliament, and a Mbabane businessman. However, in May the Supreme Court overturned massive fines (approximately US$116,000) levied against the newspaper in a 2005 defamation case brought by the late deputy prime minister Albert Shabangu. In October, a parliamentary committee charged the newspaper with damaging “the dignity and reputation of Parliament” and mandated an unconditional apology for an article that accused lawmakers of interfering in the management of the state radio station, run by the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS). The government routinely warns against negative news coverage. In August, Minister for Public Service and Information Themba Msibi warned the media against criticizing the king after Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer, voiced concerns about the king’s wide-ranging constitutional powers on an SBIS program. In addition, journalists are subject to harassment and assault by both state and nonstate actors. In May, Musa Ndlangamandla, editor of the state-owned Swazi Observer, claimed to have received death threats related to the newspaper’s campaign against unscrupulous moneylenders.
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 that is free of government control. Generally, the government withheld its advertising 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 continued to criticize government corruption and inefficiency in 2006 but steered clear of the royal family. The Swaziland Television Authority, which is both the state broadcaster and the industry regulatory agency, 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 British Broadcasting Corporation programs without censorship. The government does not restrict internet-based media, though only 3 percent of the population used the internet in 2006.