13 August 2003

MISA, IPI ALARMED BY SECRECY ACT


The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the International Press Institute (IPI) have expressed concern over the Swaziland government's move to impose a new law critics say is an effort to muzzle investigative reporting.

On 29 July, Swaziland's parliament approved the Secrecy Act, which forbids journalists from publishing information the government considers secret. Individuals found guilty of violating the law can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to US$3,385 -more than double the annual salary of most journalists in Swaziland, says MISA. Under the new law, journalists found in possession of confidential government documents can also be taken to court and forced to reveal their sources.

"The decision to enact such an act smacks of a government prepared to go to extreme lengths to smother independent reporting," says IPI.

MISA says the government's move to enact the Secrecy Act follows a series of incidents in which authorities, including Swaziland's King Mswati III, claimed to have been embarrassed by reports detailing the alleged misuse of public funds [see IFEX alert: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/34109/].
In particular, the country's only major independent media outlet, the "Times of Swaziland," has written several exposés of government corruption, including in 1995 when it published the names of King Mswati III's brothers and other royal officials whose refusal to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in loans helped drive the government bank into bankruptcy, reports the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) news service.

Meanwhile, the government has drafted a media policy that seems designed to silence the "Times of Swaziland" and discourage the establishment of new independent media, according to IRIN News. Under the policy, foreign ownership of local media outlets would be restricted to 30 per cent, forcing the "Times'" owner - a foreign citizen - to sell the newspaper to locals. New publications would also be required to prove to the government that they could generate a profit in order to qualify for operating licences.

For more information, contact MISA: research@misa.org or IPI: info@freemedia.at

Read reports on Swaziland by IFEX members:

- MISA: http://www.misa.org/sadc_journalists/swaziland.htm
- IPI: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Africa/swazi.htm
- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://www.cpj.org/attacks01/africa01/swazi.html
- Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/africa/swaziland.php
- Reporters sans frontières: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=6453&Valider=OK
Also visit:
- IRIN News: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=35802&SelectRegion=Southern_Africa

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