Mbabane: The kingdom of Eswatini is among the worst countries in press freedom in the world.
Rated 141 out of 180 countries, Eswatini is amongst the worst 20 percent of countries globally in press freedom.
This is contained in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Sans Frontières – Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
RSF is an international organization that advocates for freedom of information in any democracy and ensuring that people have access to freely-reported news and information.
Quality of journalism
The Press Freedom Index intends to reflect the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and citizens have in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect this freedom. The index only deals with press freedom and does not measure the quality of journalism nor does it look at human rights violations in general.
Although ranked 141, with 45.15 points, Eswatini has zero abuse score. The rating of Eswatini is improving although still within the bracket of the worst 20 percent. In 2019 Eswatini was at 147 with a global score of 49.09, ranked 152 with a global score of 51.46 in 2018.
Harassment of journalists
Since 2018 Eswatini has improved by 11 points from position 152 to position 141. The global score only improved with 6.31 points from 51.46 to 45.15.
Comparatively, in Africa, Eswatini is ranked 35th out of the 54 countries. Most strikingly, it is surpassed by countries Angola, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Mozambique and Nigeria where harassment of journalists are known to be rife. In the top sport in the region is Namibia followed by Cabo Verde, Ghana, South Africa and Burkina Faso respectively.
Responding to questions from this publication Media Institute of Southern Africa – Eswatini (MISA) Vuyisile Hlatjwako noted that the country has done a lot in terms of improving the media in the country.
“The recent reviving of the media policy in Eswatini and a series of trainings conducted by MISA in collaboration with other stakeholders to try and capacitate journalists has played a huge role in improving media freedom in the country”. He said It was unfortunate though that the rankings still point Eswatini to be among the worst countries, which was due to the international media reports about local journalists fleeing the country for fear of procecussion.
Hlatjwako said as an institution, they were working hard to organize trainings for journalists and media personnel so that they improve their journalistic ethics to avoid being dragged to court and some prosecuted for unethical articles.
Rating Eswatini, the RSF noted that “no court is allowed to prosecute or try members of the government, but any criticism of the regime is liable to be the subject of a prosecution.”
It further states that Eswatini is far from being an independent protector of rights and freedoms, the judicial system is often used to undermine journalism. In 2019, for example, a court decision banned articles about the circumstances in which a new bank obtained a license to operate in the Kingdom. A ubiquitous obsession with secrecy makes it hard to access information and the state wields total control over the media.
Harassment, intimidation and physical violence against journalists are all common and result in almost constant self-censorship. Several photojournalists were also attacked, including by police.
On the World Press Freedom Day May 3, 2020, the acting Minister of Information Communications and Technology, Manqoba Khumalo issued a statement that government supports press freedom in the country
“Government fully supports a healthy press, one that maintains a degree of integrity and upholds journalistic principles and ethics,” reads the statement.
On April 30, 2020 the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) published an article by Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa Programme Coordinator saying: “Eswatini police should stop threatening journalists like Eugene Dube and Mfomfo Nkhambule for writing critically about King Mswati III, and should instead champion their right to report freely. The era of ‘the king can do no wrong’ has long been relegated to the annals of history, and the police should rather focus their resources on fighting real criminals, not the press.”
The Index shows that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information.
The report is partly based on a questionnaire which asks questions about pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure.
The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated and the level of independence of the public media.
It also includes violations of the free flow of information on the Internet. Violence against journalists, netizens, and media assistants, including abuses attributable to the state, armed militias, clandestine organizations or pressure groups, are monitored during the year and are also part of the final score. Based on the data collected, a score and a position or rank, complementary indicators that together assess the state of media freedom are assigned to each country in the final report.
A smaller score on the report corresponds to greater freedom of the press as reported by the organization.
The questionnaire is sent to Reporters Without Borders’s partner organizations, freedom of expression non-governmental organizations located in five continents, its 150 correspondents around the world and journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.