Some punches pulled by MISA on the proposed law
hile excitement is high on the prospects of release of licences for radio stations, some stakeholders are calling for the speedy passing of the Broadcasting Bill to complement the operations of broadcasters.
Community Radio Sector spokesperson Ambrose Zwane of Lubombo Community Radio fame says this would allow operators to challenge government in the event of a haphazard closure of a station.
He says this is the immediate task of the new Cabinet especially the ministry of information communication and technology headed by Princess Sikhanyiso. Cabinet was sworn in on Tuesday.
He says the sector is currently very excited at prospects that Swaziland Communications Commission SCCOM would be opening applications next month as it announced at a media workshop in August. Government gazetted the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill on February 15, 2013 together with the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill and ever since it has not seen the light of day, that is, being made into law despite input from all stakeholders.
Zwane says the Bill is very rich and diverse in issues of broadcasting and therefore the issuance of licence would be ideal if coupled with a piece of legislation that is current with the inister of information, communication and technology, Winnie Magagula, tabled the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2013 and the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2013 in the Senate on Wednesday March 6, 2016.
While welcoming the tabling of the Bill the Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISASwaziland) wanted to know how the broadcaster will strengthen the “spiritual and moral fibre” of the nation, and called for a precise definition of “spiritual and moral fibre” because the Bill is silent in its meaning.
MISA said it was concerned that the “spiritual and moral fibre” objective might in reality clash with the “freedom of expression through broadcasting” objective. In other words, MISA is concerned that “spiritual and moral fibre” may be used to suppress legitimate questioning and criticism of the nation’s rich and powerful.
MISA called for either the removal of the “spiritual and moral fibre” objective, or, alternatively, a precise definition that runs in spirit with universal notions of freedom of expression, namely, that all citizens are free to speak their mind on all forms of broadcasting.
Further, MISA required clarification in regard to Part III, 27 (1)(a) of the Broadcasting Bill, under “Programming, Scheduling and Advertising”. The Bill here stipulates any organisation that holds a broadcasting licence must broadcast “nothing… that shall offend against good taste, morality or decency
Mtimes. “Personally if SCCOM uses broadcasting regulations for its licences it does not give licensees leeway to argue effectively in a court of law without a law.”
However he is excited that there is even a semblance of licencing just around the corner, in December, and as a community radio sector they are now organising themselves to put upto-date equipment to meet the challenge in all regions. The target is that by next year they would be on air for the University of Eswatini community radio. He laments that currently students graduate with zero practical skills in broadcasting and this becomes a burden of the employer to take through the paces of broadcasting new entrants in the industry who otherwise boast a qualification in journalism and mass communication with subjects in broadcasting. Section 10 of the Bill stipulates that an applicant shall not be eligible for a community broadcasting licence if the applicant is profit making; is wholly foreign owned; has been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty; is a political party or entity or holds office in that entity; or is an operator, shareholder, employee or holds an interest in any media outlet. A newspaper, private radio or television station or is likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder, or be offensive to public feeling, repugnant, or conducted in bad faith”.
MISA called on the minister to define: “good taste”; “morality”; “decency”; “likely to incite crime or lead to disorder”; offensive to public feeling”; “repugnant”; and “conducted in bad faith” saying these are loaded words and terms with various meanings. They could be used in the name of media freedom just as much as they might be deployed in the name of repression and censorship. In the name of legal accountability, therefore, MISA called on the government to define these words and terms in a manner consistent with Articles 23, 24, and 25 of the Swazi Constitution.
The other Bill tabled in Swaziland’s Senate on 6 March 2013 is the Swaziland proprietor shall not own or control any share or interest in a community radio station. The law further stipulates that a community broadcasting service shall serve a community, and the members of that community that such community broadcasting service is interested to serve shall be given an opportunity to run the service.
The programming provided by a community broadcasting service shall reflect the needs of the people in the community, which shall include culture, language and demographic needs. It shall provide a distinct broadcasting service dealing specifically with issues which are not predominantly dealt by the public broadcasting service covering the same area; shall serve to eradicate information poverty through participatory communication in the community; be informative, educational and entertaining; focus on provision of programmes that highlight grassroots community issues including but not limited to development and general educational, environmental, local, international and current affairs and reflect local culture; promote the development of a sense of common purpose and improve the quality of life; and help foster cultural and communal identity. Broadcasting Corporation Bill.
Furthermore MISA said on initial inspection the Corporation Bill intends to establish a body not dissimilar to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) – an organisation to emerge from the ashes of Apartheid South Africa’s and racist state broadcaster.
The SABC, which is called a ‘public broadcaster’ and in many ways is a public broadcaster, is still grappling today (19 years after the fall of Apartheid) with its role as a national broadcaster that should disseminate information in the public interest. Rarely a week goes by without allegations of state censorship or ‘shelving’ of inconvenient stories, or accusations of ‘orders from on high’ disallowing criticism of certain people or certain organisations. wane decries that the issue of licences for community broadcasting radio stations comes at a time when there already is donor fatigue and despair because most international donors had long lost hope on Eswatini’s commitment to liberalise waves for community broadcasting in order to advance the dictates of the very same Bill.
He says in the build up to the Bill they had already secured funding from various sources to set up many radio stations across the country serve the different communities but now every one of these is struggling to get funding for basic equipment.
This was more-so because some international partners were in waiting for the release of the licences but most had to leave as that was not forthcoming and now that have to start afresh to scout for funders or renew relations. “It is 22 years now I’ve been fighting for a licence and I have now become famous the world over as being resilient, I have made history for Eswatini because now the country is the world map as the only country that has suppressed community radio.” In 2013 government announced that “Cabinet has approved the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2010 and the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2010. The Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2010 seeks to harmonise the whole broadcasting industry. This is the legislation that will be used by the Independent Communications Regulator once it is in place when regulating the broadcasting sector.
The objects of the Bill, among others, are to;
Provide for the regulation of sound and television services in Eswatini;
Provide for maximum availability of broadcasting to the people through the three tier system of public, commercial and community broadcasting services;
Provide for broadcasting to contribute to the socio-economic development of society, nation building, provision of education and the strengthening of the spiritual and moral fibre.
Safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Eswatini.
Contribute to democracy, development of society, gender equality, nation building, and provision of education;
Encourage the development of local programming content;
Ensure fair competition in the broadcasting sector;
Provide for public, commercial and community broadcasting services.
The Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2010 is mainly for the establishment of the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation which shall be a national broadcaster for the Kingdom of Eswatini by amalgamating the operations and resources of the two existing broadcasters, Swazi Television and the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services.
The Bill seeks further to provide for the licencing of the Corporation; provide for the establishment of a Board of Directors to run the Corporation. The two Bills will be submitted to Parliament for approval.
i) ii) iii) iv) v) vi) vii) viii)
MUZZLED: Journos protest during the World Press Freedom day where rights of communities to information were at issue.
SWITCH ON: Ambrose Zwane of Community Radio sector explaining his concept.
SCRIBES: Media personalities at a recent workshop where radio licencing was discussed.