|Official Country Name:||Kingdom of Swaziland|
|Region (Map name):||Africa|
Background— General Characteristics
Swaziland is landlocked and almost surrounded by South Africa, with Mozambique to the east. Swaziland's press industry may be characterized as small, struggling, and mostly dominated by the government—a monarchy led by King Mswati III, who has been enthroned since 1986. The press's growth and size are inhibited by Swaziland's weak infrastructure with a predominantly rural population of about 1 million. Low per-capita income renders purchasing newspapers, radios, televisions and the Internet unaffordable luxuries to most residents. The situation is compounded by the devastation the HIV/ AIDS prevalence of 25 percent in adults, which is threatening life expectancy, population size and socioeconomic productivity.
Swaziland, a dual absolute monarchy, attained independence in 1969 after seven decades as a British protectorate. Enforcing the power of the throne the king suspended the constitution in 1973. Ruling by decree, suppressing freedom of expression and association, the regime historically has precipitated unrest and opposition from progressives. This has taken the form of demonstrations and strikes promoting universal suffrage and modern democracy. Consequently, the government established a Constitutional Commission to develop a new constitution but the government's delaying tactics, censorship and harassment of the media, police and security forces' brutality, arrests, and detentions without trial that have been leveled against critics of the monarchy leave the country without a constitution.
Economically, landlocked Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa, its major trading partner. The economy is based on subsistence agriculture (involving around 60 percent of the population) contributing around 25 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP). Manufacturing also accounts for about 25 percent of GDP. Mining has declined in importance in recent years. Exports of sugar and forestry products are the main earners of hard currency. Swaziland's economy is vulnerable to international price fluctuations of its exports, unfavorable cyclic weather conditions and record-high trade deficits.
The press generally is based in Mbabane, the capital city. There is only one daily, the Times of Swaziland with a weekly subsidiary, Swazi News, both state-owned. The Swazi Observer group of papers is made up of the Daily Observer, Weekend Observer and Istantsell. The Nation is a monthly independent newsmagazine. Publishers for periodicals, journals and books include: Tikhatsi Temaswati; Apollo Services (Pty) Ltd; BGS Printing and Publishing (Pty) Ltd; Jubilee Printers; Longman Swaziland (Pty) Ltd; Macmillan Boleswa Publishers (Pty) Ltd; Swaziland Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd.; and Whydah Media Publishers Ltd.
The suspended constitution vests supreme legislative and executive power in the head of state who is the hereditary king, and provides for a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senate and the House of Assembly. The king's role is primarily advisory. In the absence of a new constitution delineating press laws, monarch's rule by a 1973 decree is the governing principle. In 1999 anti-defamation legislation was passed requiring government licensing of all journalists and threatening reporters with criminal penalties for publishing so-called "inaccurate stories." According to the colonial era Books and Publication's Act, the 1968 Proscribed Publications Act reintroduced under the king's Decree No. 3 of July 23, 2001, the state can ban any publication with neither explanation nor legal proceedings. The most recent Internal Security Bill legislation muzzles free press. This is in contrast with media freedom and the freedom of expression found in the pending constitution's Bill of Rights the Swaziland's Constitutional Review Commission is expected to finalize by the end of 2002. King Mswati III's most recent public statements also uphold freedom of press, but are seemingly confined to issues related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic's publicity.
Government censorship of free press shows a trail of heavy-handed treatment of the press viewed as critical of the monarchy. This is illustrated by various bans on newspapers and attacks on journalists reporting on the government's ill-treatment of political opponents, including newspaper editors and media critical of the monarchy. Further, state monopoly in media ownership of major newspapers, and local television and radio stations, is intended to censor information. Thus, freedom of expression is seriously compromised when editors and journalists of independent and government-controlled media such as the Times of Swaziland (intermittently published since 1897), The Nation, and The Guardian of Swaziland have been temporarily banned. Some have resumed production only after court battles. The Swazi Observer, owned by a national trust and controlled by the king, was closed abruptly in February 2000 for allegedly revealing power squabbles within the government, resuming publication in January 2001.
State-press relations are rampant with the king's allegations of the press inciting disloyalty, and degrading or undermining the monarchy through negative reporting. Many journalists have referred to Swaziland's treatment of journalists as reminiscent of the way the defunct apart-heid South Africa government repressed the press. Reporters and journalists have experienced various forms of police brutality, intimidation, killings, retrenchment, arrests, defamation, beatings, destruction of equipment, accusations of being disrespectful to the monarchy, and as being instigators of political turmoil.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
Government attitude toward foreign media is beset with distrust and accusations of foreign media personnel as conspirators and infiltrators inciting instability to destabilize the monarchy. International and local journalists who freelance for international press organizations and who criticize the monarchy for muzzling the press have been harassed, with some being deported.
The Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service, broadcasting in English and Siswazi, and the only television station—with seven hours of daily programming in English—are both state-owned and under the Ministry of Information. The Swaziland Commercial Radio (Pty) Ltd South Africa-based commercial service to southern Africa broadcasts religious programs and music in English and Portuguese. Trans World Radio is a religious broadcast using five transmitters to broadcast in 30 languages to southern, east and central Africa and to the Far East.
A privileged few urbanites have access to electronic news media through the Internet, fax, posts, telecommunications and a mobile cellular phone network. Swaziland's posts and telecommunications network was completely automated in 1996, with digitalization in 1998 and optical fiber systems in key areas to increase trunk network capacity and efficiency. Several online news sites cover Swaziland, such as Swaziland Today and Xinhau News.
Swaziland's journalists and broadcasters have a variety of training background experiences with some being trained locally, and others in South Africa or other African nations and overseas. English, the language used in business, and Siswati are the official languages. Around 67 percent of the population over age 15 is literate. The only university, the University of Swaziland with more than 3,000 students, recently established an Institute of Distance Education.
The monarch's tiny media press industry continues to face formidable problems. History clearly shows the king's relentless efforts to prevent freedom of the press under a pretext alleging that differing views and political parties are alien and divisive practices incompatible with Swazi culture. Recent disturbances, upheavals, strikes, and human rights concerns—which have led to the regional and international involvement of several organizations, including Amnesty International—indicate that freedom of media, expression and information are the cornerstone of democracy and fundamental human rights.
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Saliwe M. Kawewe , Ph.D.