Africa’s last absolute monarchy remained true to itself: anachronistic. Nothing changed. The state-owned media were closely monitored by the king and his government and the sole privately-owned newspaper had very little room for manoeuvre.
King Mswati III controls everything in his country. The government just carries out his decisions. So it is with the news media. The state-owned media - a daily, a radio station and a TV station - only broadcast news that has been checked and approved by the information minister. Criticising the king is inconceivable. "If you did that, you would be fired immediately," a state-employed journalist told Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity during a fact-finding mission in November 2003. "That has already happened several times," he added.
Political parties are banned. The only dissenting voices come from the few labour unions which call for modest democratic reforms. The state news media report unionists’ statements only if they are in support of the government. If not, the press says nothing.
When the king holds a news conference, the questions are chosen in advance by government press officers. Self-censorship is widespread and the information ministry regular reminds journalists how they should behave.
The only privately-owned newspaper, the Times of Swaziland, is not much better off. No criticism of the king is tolerated and the newspaper is basically given over to news trivia, entertainment, culture and sports. Its owner, a foreigner, was refused a residence permit. Editor Martin Dlamini said: "Each article has to be carefully read to weigh the risks involved in publishing it."
A journalist physically attacked
Phiwokwakhe Ngidi of the Times of Swaziland was attacked and badly beaten by local businessmen Bongani Mamba after reporting in the 14 January issue that Mamba had a car crash while under the influence of drugs and in the company of an unidentified woman.
Harassment and obstruction
Information minister Abednego Ntshangase on 8 April 2003 banned the state-owned Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service from broadcasting critical or negative information about the government. The ban followed the broadcasting a few days earlier of a reference to the king’s purchase of a luxury jet while 25 per cent of the country’s population is malnourished.
The government presented a media ethics code and a charter for the media complaints commission on 17 April. The information minister claimed that the government had to take this initiative because the press community had done nothing. The Times of Swaziland described the measures as "vindictive and punitive." They included exorbitant fines and sentences of up to five years in prison for breaches of the media code, and giving the government the right to dismiss journalists.