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Sunday, 14 March 2010

GOVERNMENT WANTS MEDIA CONTROL

The following is a media statement from the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Swazi government refuses to register Media Complaints Commission

MBABANE, Swaziland, March 11, 2010

Efforts by the local media to operationalize a self-regulatory framework have failed following government’s refusal to register the Media Complaints Commission (MCC). The media have now resolved to appeal to the Minister of Information for intervention though reserving the right to approach the High Court of Swaziland to compel the government to register the MCC.

On 11 March 2010 MISA-Swaziland, which is assisting the media to operationalize the MCC, met editors to map the way forward. The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ), which is leading the self-regulatory process, was also in attendance.

It was reported during the meeting that following a resolution by media owners to have the MCC registered in order for it to have a legal status, lawyers were approached in November 2009 to file an application with government to have the MCC registered.

However, the Registrar of companies with whom the application was lodged, declined to register the MCC arguing that its objectives appeared to overlap with a proposed Bill that seeks to introduce statutory media regulation. The lawyers were advised that the approval of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) would be required before the registration of the MCC could be considered.

On 15 January 2010 the lawyers wrote to the Director of Information in the Ministry of ICT to seek his guidance on the matter but so far no response has been received.

“At this point we might indicate that the media, having submitted an application for registration (of the MCC) to a public official, is entitled to speedy administrative justice. If, therefore, no response is received from these public officers or no satisfactory response is received, the media may consider moving an application to the High Court for an order calling upon the Registrar of Companies and the Ministry of ICT to show cause why the MCC should not be registered within a specific period to be fixed by the court,” the lawyers wrote recently.

The editors resolved to seek an audience with the Minister of ICT, Nelsiwe Shongwe, to discuss the issue. In the event the talks with the Minister fail, an application to the High Court would be made to compel government to register the MCC. Other options were also considered.

Background

The Swazi media has been struggling to set up the self-regulatory mechanism for the past 10 years. In 2009 the government accused the media of delaying the self-regulatory process and introduced a Media Commission Bill 2009 that seeks to introduce a statutory framework. The Bill, which was however rejected by the media, is yet to be submitted to Parliament for debate. The MCC itself was launched in 2007 but it was unable to operate pending its registration with government.

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