- The Health Minister of Swaziland has barred journalists from hospital and banned hospital staff from talking to media, after Swazi media had exposed negligence in state health institutions. The Swazi press already suffers from heavy regulation and self-censorship.
Earlier this week, the Swazi 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 the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reports today.
The media ban followed a series of media exposures on the alleged perpetual negligence by hospital staff that resulted in the recent death of a young girl who had been bitten by a rabid dog.
Swazi 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 Mbabane Ministry of Health and has further caused the health sector to gradually crumble.
The previous week, Minister Mabuza issued a government memo to the Mbabane hospital administration to deny the media access to the hospital premises without his personal permission.
On 23 June, the semi-independent '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 Mr Masango out of the premises and carried him out to the gate.
Amid Mr Masango's protestations, the security personnel stressed that, in accordance with a new "law", permission had to be obtained from either the Minister himself or his Principal Secretary before the media would be allowed to cover anything inside the hospital.
The 'Times of Swaziland' contacted Minister Mabuza, 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 is said to infringe upon "the right to access information" according to Swazi legislation. MISA today said the media organisations intend to meet the Minister to protest the ban.
Swaziland is defined as one of the most repressive regimes in Africa when it comes to press freedom. While most of the country's media are privately owned, they are still controlled by the government or persons close to the autocratic King, Mswati III. More "independent" newspapers have to be careful reporting on government critical issues and practice self-censorship.
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