April 17, 2003

New censorship policy in Swaziland

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from over 115 countries, calls upon the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to strongly condemn the recent decision of the Swaziland government to introduce a new censorship policy.

According to information provided to IPI, on April 13, in a speech before parliamentarians at the House of Assembly, Minister of Information Abednego Ntshangase said, "The national television and radio stations are not going to cover anything that has a negative bearing on government." The minister then went on to say that media who oppose the government will be prevented from airing their views.

On the basis of a report from the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the ban on negative criticism of the Swaziland government will apply to both the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services, which operates all of the country's radio stations, and Swazi TV, the country's only television station. In the words of Ntshangase, it has been introduced to prevent broadcasters from covering embarrassing stories involving the country's ruler, King Mswati III.

IPI notes that South African President Thabo Mbeki recently told an editors forum that "There is a situation in Swaziland which is of major concern to the region, some things need to be done." Moreover, Mbeki went on to say, "SADC is looking at the subject and how to deal with it." But, while IPI is pleased that the SADC is investigating this current incident, it believes that, aside from a mere recognition of the problem, something more constructive is needed if member-countries of the SADC are to uphold press freedom.

In a letter dated 26 November 2002, IPI congratulated the Parliamentary Forum of the SADC for its decision to call upon member-countries to re-affirm their commitment to Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Windhoek Declaration of 1991, and review domestic legislation in order to ensure their compatibility with these international declarations. IPI now believes that it is time for all SADC member-countries, including Swaziland, to undertake this important step without delay.

Moreover, it is vital that the SADC itself works harder to ensure that member-countries improve their domestic media environment. There needs to be an energetic and forthright discussion in the SADC about a new mechanism to encourage and finally compel countries to uphold press freedom. If this is done, IPI believes that it would enhance the democratic aims of the newly formed African Union (AU) and New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Therefore, IPI calls on the SADC to repudiate the statements of the Swaziland Minister of Information Abednego Ntshangase; to call on member-countries to uphold international declarations on press freedom; to urge member-countries to review their domestic legislation; and invite all SADC member-countries to condemn the repressive activities of their fellow members. (The Independent, Banjul)

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