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"Times of Swaziland" journalist threatened during parliamentary session

(MISA/IFEX) - On 21 September 2009, press freedom in Swaziland came under renewed threat with a Senator calling for what he termed a "stringent" law that would "deal" with the media in the country.

Senator Themba Msibi, an ex-Minister for Information, stated during a Parliamentary session that "enacting a stringent law will deal with the journalists once and for all."

The Senator was making a submission during a debate over a newspaper article in which it was said that a journalist with the "Times of Swaziland" misquoted the Senate president, Gelane Zwane, during a previous Senate seating.

He said that asking the media to apologise for wrong articles does not help "because they will continue doing this. This is not a mistake but they are doing it purposely," Senator Msibi was quoted in the "Times of Swaziland" newspaper.

Other Senators appeared in support of Senator Msibi with Minister for Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) Nelsiwe Shongwe assuring the House that her ministry was doing something about their concern. She was not specific.

During the same debate the Senate president herself verbally attacked the "Times of Swaziland" journalist, Arthur Mordaunt, who was also present in Parliament to cover the proceedings. A reportedly angry Zwane accused Mordaunt of having a vendetta against her and she went on to threaten the journalist.

"I have been watching you very closely and I have realized that ever since you started writing about me you are always writing negatively. If you want to survive in your journalism career you should immediately stop it," Zwane was quoted to have said by the "Times of Swaziland".

She went on to say that had it not been for the fact that she was not an ordinary member of society, she would have already done something to Mordaunt and expressed in Siswati something to the effect that she would have already set her "dogs" upon Mordaunt to "tear" the journalist apart.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter views the threats against Mordaunt and the media very seriously and feels this not only constitutes a serious attack on press freedom but is also plain abuse of parliamentary privilege by the Senators.

MISA Swaziland National Director, Comfort Mabuza, said if the Senators were at all aggrieved by articles which appeared in the "Times of Swaziland" or any other media house, the media houses have formal structures to address such concerns and senators should approach the "Times of Swaziland", in this case, to have their concerns addressed instead of abusing their parliamentary privileges and threatening journalists.

Mabuza went on to say MISA Swaziland also rejects the call by Senator Msibi for a law to regulate the media. He said such a call was out of place and inconsistent with the country's constitution and the universal principles of media freedom and also goes against a 1997 Parliamentary resolution to have the media regulate themselves.

He said the Swazi media was currently finalizing their self-regulatory framework not only to regulate the media but also handle complaints from the public about the media and therefore a call for statutory media regulation was completely irrelevant and unnecessary.

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