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Health minister bars journalists from hospital, bans hospital staff from talking to media, following media exposé of negligence

(MISA/IFEX) - On 24 June 2007, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Njabulo Mabuza, banned the media from entering the Mbabane Government Hospital, Swaziland's biggest hospital, in search of news.

This followed a series of media exposés on the alleged perpetual negligence of hospital staff that resulted in the recent death of a young girl who had been bitten by a rabid dog.

The media alleged the child died because of neglect by hospital staff and the shortage of drugs, a perennial problem that has brought huge embarrassment to the Ministry of Health and has further caused the health sector to gradually crumble.

The previous week, Minister Mabuza issued a government memo to the hospital administration to deny the media access to the hospital premises without his permission.

On 23 June, the "Times of Swaziland" newspaper experienced the effects of the Minister's censorship order when its photographer, Albert Masango, was denied access to the hospital. Hospital security harassed and pulled Masango out of the premises and carried him out to the gate.

Amid Masango's protestations, the security personnel stressed that, in accordance with a new "law", permission had to be obtained from either the Minister or his Principal Secretary before the media would be allowed to cover anything inside the hospital.

The "Times" contacted the Minister, who confirmed the new order and promised to issue a letter allowing the "Times" access to the hospital.

However, the government has also banned hospital staff from talking to the media about anything at the hospital.

Media organisations including MISA Swaziland have condemned this act of censorship as it infringes upon the right to access information. The media organisations intend to meet the Minister to protest the ban.

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