Swaziland | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Swaziland

Swaziland

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

76

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

25

Freedom of expression is restricted in Swaziland, especially regarding political issues or matters concerning the royal family. There are very few legal protections for journalists and media workers. While the 2006 constitution 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 the monarchy. Access to information is limited. In June, journalists were barred from entering Mbabne Government Hospital and from talking to hospital employees after a series of media reports exposed the allegedly negligent death of a four-year-old girl.

Harsh defamation laws are also used to stifle the press. In March 2007, parliamentarian Maqhawe Mavuso sued the semiprivate Swazi Observer for defamation over an article about an alleged assault involving Mavuso. In July, the editor of the private Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, was sued for defamation in the amount of US$500,000 by member of parliament Marwick Khumalo after Makhubu wrote an article accusing Khumalo of corruption. Neither case has yet gone to trial. Swazi courts do occasionally dismiss and overturn defamation charges against journalists. In 2006, the Supreme Court overturned massive fines (approximately US$116,000) levied against the independent Times of Swaziland in a 2005 defamation case brought by the late deputy prime minister Albert Shabangu. In 2007, the government dismissed a similar suit brought against the paper by Education Minister Themba Msibi.

The government routinely warns against negative news coverage, and journalists are subject to harassment and assault by both state and nonstate actors. In July, parliament investigated charges of contempt against Times of Swaziland editor Mbongeni Mbingo after Mbingo penned an editorial criticizing Speaker of the House Prince Guduza. Mbingo was cleared of these charges in October. Separately in March, a controversial pastor stated categorically in a sermon that he was praying for the death of two journalists, which would teach the media not to write “badly” about the church, following an article the two had written about an internal church quarrel. The Media Institute of Southern Africa also reported that a number of reporters had received anonymous phone calls advising them to discontinue their investigations of particular stories; in the majority of these instances, the journalists complied with the request.

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; the Swazi Observer, on the other hand, is owned by a royal conglomerate. Both newspapers continued to criticize government corruption and inefficiency in 2007 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 government-owned radio station and 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, which influences its content. 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 2007.