15 June 2011

MISA welcomes long-awaited Media Complaints Commission


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Fourteen years after the idea was initially bandied about, a new commission that deals with public complaints about the media has been established in Swaziland, reports the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA). On 7 June, the government finally registered the Media Complaints Commission (MCC), a media self-regulatory framework for the country.

According to MISA, the absence of a media complaints mechanism in Swaziland has led to a lack of trust of the media sector by the majority of citizens. A commission could help stem criminal defamation lawsuits and the practice of self-censorship, says MISA.

"The MCC will discourage expensive court procedures and mechanisms, and allow for access to a complaints mechanism by the poor majority of Swazis who rarely are able to defend themselves in court in cases of defamation," says MISA.

The idea of a media complaints mechanism was first discussed in 1997, when the government tried to set up a media commission by law - a move condemned by MISA and other press freedom organisations. They said any government-led initiative to regulate the media was viewed as an attempt to "muzzle the media and exert undue control on matters of free expression."

Over the years, MISA and other media advocacy groups have fought for the council's independence and resisted several government attempts to regulate the media by law, particularly since the country's media are dominated by state-owned channels and papers. A self-regulated commission could ensure, for example, that politicians would not have the right to appoint commission members or dole out media licences.

At the same time, media stakeholders felt the body should be registered with the government so that it had legal standing - a long battle that only culminated last week.

"MISA is proud to note the unwavering stakeholder commitment from both the media and the Swazi government in finding common ground that led to the final registration of the commission," says MISA.

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