Even the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is enraged by the Swazi government’s latest attempt to muzzle the media.
Cabinet has approved a Media Commission Bill that the newspaper says, ‘seeks to regulate or even censor media practitioners if found to have criticised some operations of the state’.
Three cheers for the Observer in voicing its concern, but it is not alone.
Many local media houses feel betrayed because they have been ignored by the government led by Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed Prime Minister of Swaziland. Dlamini has a long history as an enemy of freedom.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa – Swaziland Chapter (MISA) director Comfort Mabuza called the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, ‘double-faced’ because it had not been honest in negotiations with media houses. The government had said negotiations were continuing even though the Cabinet was set to discuss the final Bill.
Mabuza said the new Media Commission Bill was similar to oppressive laws of the former apartheid regime in South Africa, ‘where publications were closed at whim and such would draw the eyes of the international community to the country unnecessarily’.
The Secretary of the Swaziland Editors' Forum Jabu Matsebula also expressed his dismay over the move.
‘This is nothing but censorship. That journalists must have licences before they could practice is a flagrant disrespect of democratic norms. If they give you the licence, what can stop them from revoking it if you criticise certain actions of the status quo?’ he said.