Prince Mahlaba, a member of Swaziland’s royal family, has been widely condemned after he made “death threats and outrageous claims” against local journalists over their critical coverage of the country’s leadership.
“I want to warn the media to bury things that have the potential of undermining the country rather than publish all and everything even when such reports are harmful to the country’s international image,” Prince Mahlaba said during a July 21 public forum in Manzini.
The prince who is a member of the Swazi National Council Standing Committee (SNC), a highly influential royal advisory council that advises the king on public policy including media matters, is quoted as having said that “Journalists who continue to write bad things about the country will die.”
According to local journalists his comments came after one of the queens, present at the Manzini public forum under the them: Smart Partnership National Dialogue, demanded to know why the media was portraying the country negatively.
Prince Mahlaba, brother of Swaziland’s absolute ruler King Mswati III, also accused the media of peddling lies. “It’s a fact that journalists earn their living by writing lies and if they do not write the lies then their source of livelihood is threatened and this is fact and beyond debate.”
Media experts, including managing editor of the independent Times of Swaziland Mbogani Mbingo has said the threats were “dangerous”, and especially because of his importance in the kingdom the prince’s words could not be taken lightly.
“We are in big trouble because his view may be representing that of SNC, which advises the king,” said Comfort Mabuza, the National Director of the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa. According to her the threats are even more worrying given that the council has remained silent over the issue and “is yet to call him to order”.
“The government of Swaziland must immediately reject the death threats against journalists by a leading member of the ruling family,” said
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.
Whilst Mr. Keita has called on the government to “issue a clear and unequivocal statement condemning this murderous outburst”, Comfort Mabuza argues that she feared the threats could incite the public against local journalists.
Journalists who write about the monarchy in Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, have often been examined under the loop. Early this year, the government of Swaziland announced that it had approved a contentious Media Commission Bill, which sought to regulate the media by statute.
Swaziland Editors’ Forum Secretary, Jabu Matsebula had said that move was “nothing but censorship. That journalists must have licences before they could practice is a flagrant disrespect of democratic norms. If they give you the licence, what can stop them from revoking it if you criticise certain actions of the status quo?”.
Analysts argue that the Bill, as was approved by cabinet on 20 April 2010, could empower government or officials to prevent certain stories from being published by the media, order the closure of unfriendly publications and media houses, and revoke licenses from journalists once it becomes law.
Observers believe that the prince’s declaration highlights the views of the Southern African kingdom’s government who have for some time been striving to control the media, having recently welcomed the Media Commission Bill that seeks to regulate or even censor media practitioners if found to have criticised some operations of the state.