- Swaziland's Minister of Public Service and Information Themba Msibi this week issued a statement, saying that the Swazi government was considering reviving its Media Council Bill of 1997 if the media failed to put in place a self-regulatory body within the coming two weeks. Swazi media are in the process of establishing such a body.
Minister Msibi made the statement during a meeting of journalists in Sidvokodvo outside the town of Manzini, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) informed yesterday. The independent Swazi press still is weak and subjected to censorship, but editors are hoping that the establishment of a self-regulatory body could improve the situation somewhat by limiting government interference.
Both the Swaziland chapter of MISA and the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) yesterday said they are concerned about the Minister's utterances, particularly "as he is well aware of the media's continuing efforts to establish a self regulatory body," MISA-Swaziland says.
The press freedom group fears that a reintroduction of the repressive Media Council Bill of 1997 will halt all positive developments within the Swazi media sector. "We are very disturbed about this since the Ministry is aware of the reasons for the delay in the process [of establishing a self-regulatory body and complaints mechanism in Swaziland]", MISA-Swaziland said in a statement released yesterday evening.
- In fact the very Ministry has contributed to the state of affairs because it has not accepted and endorsed some of the proposals that were forwarded to it, the press freedom group claimed. Swazi media had seen several of the forwarded proposals turned down by Minister Msibi and thus were working on new ideas acceptable to the government.
MISA-Swaziland today further "condemned in the strongest terms such candid moves by government" and called for more time to be given to enable media owners to endorse the process before it is finalised. "It should be said loud and clear that the Ministry is aware of the challenges that media stakeholders are facing in their attempts to implement such a body. There is no need to invoke fear in the media or attempt to derail the current process", the group said.
Swaziland's 1997 Media Council Bill had been drafted without any input from the press or any other stakeholders. The bill provided for the compulsory registration of journalists and a wide range of harsh disciplinary measures against journalists and editors. According to the freedom of expression group Article 19, the bill sought "to bring the entire practice of journalism in Swaziland under government control."
After much lobbying of Swazi MPs, national and international press freedom groups managed to stop the Mbabane parliament's endorsement of the controversial bill in November 1997. Several attempts have been made to change the wording of the bill or to reintroduce it to parliament. Meanwhile, private Swazi media have sworn to self-censorship to avoid open conflicts with the repressive government.
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