11 March 2011


BBC programme banned for being critical of government

Incident details


BBC, Radio station


Focus on Africa, Programme
(MISA/IFEX) - 9 March 2011 - The government of Swaziland has banned the daily live transmission of the BBC Focus on Africa programme after one of the news clips, broadcast on the English channel of the state radio, Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), was critical of the government.

The programme, broadcast daily in the mornings, mid-day and evenings, has been off air for the past week. The state radio has been running apologies to listeners of the programme for its absence, stating that it is due to technical problems.

However, Members of Parliament confronted the Minister for Information Communications and Technology (ICT), Nelisiwe Shongwe, for answers. The Minister conceded in Parliament that the programme has been temporarily suspended. She said the government has taken a decision to censor the programme and said it would be back on air soon.

The Minister added that the programme had to be edited to ensure that it did not impact people negatively. She said people should understand that there were some pieces of information that could not be communicated to listeners.

MPs did not take kindly to the government's move and warned that it was dangerous as it was infringing on people's right to access information. One of the MPs, Robert Magongo, said what the government has done has the potential to spark a riot among the people.

"If I were a Minister I would never take orders from anyone because that would negatively portray me in the eyes of the people I am serving. I would rather resign than have someone dictate to me," MP Magongo was quoted in the media to have said.

The government has not only banned the BBC programme but has also banned all state media from covering demonstrations and strikes currently taking place in the country. Parliament has also cautioned the government against this move.

MISA Swaziland condemns in the strongest terms the government's move to ban or censor media content. Such a move has no place in the modern world as it seriously violates people's right to access information. MISA strongly rejects the Minister's assertion that government has a right to filter information to the public. To the contrary, the public has a right to receive unfiltered information from any media of their choice.

MISA, therefore, strongly urges the government to restore the BBC programme to be aired uncensored and to stop interfering in media content.

MISA further commends the MPs for questioning the government about this and cautioning against it. MISA cannot agree more with the MPs that the government's move is not only dangerous but also infringes upon people's right to know. The government cannot prescribe what people should listen and not listen to. People have the right to choose what is good for them without being dictated to by the state.


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