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Media warned against criticising king

(MISA/IFEX) - On August 24 2006, the minister for public service and information, Themba Msibi, warned the Swazi media against criticising the king, instilling further fear into an already timid press which cannot freely operate due to a perpetually hostile environment that continues to prevail despite the kingdom's new Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.

The minister's threats followed a live radio programme of news and current affairs in which a human rights lawyer criticised the king's sweeping constitutional powers. Aired on the state broadcaster, the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), the human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, had been asked to comment on a visit by an African Union (AU) human rights team which was on a fact-finding mission to Swaziland during the week of 21 August.

In response, Maseko said that, as human rights activists, they had concerns about the king's sweeping constitutional powers and the fact that he the king was wrongfully placed above the Constitution. He said they were going to bring this and other human rights violations to the attention of the AU delegation.

Not pleased with the broadcast, the government was quick to respond. Msibi spoke on air the following day to sternly warn the media against criticising the king. He said the media should exercise respect and avoid issues that seek to question the king or his powers.

The minister said his message was not directed only to radio but to all media, both private and government-owned. He said that in government they had noticed that there was growing trend in the media to criticise the king when he should be above criticism and public scrutiny.

Management of the radio station was further called aside and told to "toe the line" or the government would be forced to "pull the plug" on programmes that are "wayward".

A senior journalist at the radio station told MISA Swaziland: "Censorship is an everyday occurrence here. As a government medium, there is very little we can do. We just have to survive under the circumstances."

MISA Swaziland condemns censorship and threats against the media. The chapter is intending to meet with the information minister to protest against his threatening the media.

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