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FREEDOM OF OPINION DENIED

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WHAT triggered this opinion is the treatment of Queen Shongwe by the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS). I also have to declare that I did not hear what Queen said that led to her being banned but only relied on what I read in the media and also what I heard when she was stopped from calling in one of the health programmes at SBIS.

When she was stopped in that programme, I noticed that Queen’s right to expression was being hindered. I then asked myself about her right to health as well because those programmes are to help people exercise their right to health and Queen was denied that opportunity. If others are allowed to access this service and she is denied, is she not being discriminated against? The rules of natural justice were not followed when she was banned as she was never given a chance to present her side.


The audialterampartem rule (hear the other side) does not exist in most decisions that are taken by SBIS yet it is the only radio station in this country (with the exception of VOC). Queen wants to be heard but the director of the station, who is showing dictatorial tendencies, is not willing to hear her.

Those who we are told Queen referred to have come out to say they were not offended by her but her constitutional right is being infringed upon. Section 24 of the Constitution states that a person has a right to freedom of expression and opinion and cannot be hindered in the enjoyment of the right including freedom of the press. But this is not the case with the way Queen is being treated.

There are limitations to the right and the closest to the matter at hand is Section 24 (3) (b)(i), which provides that this right can be denied to protect reputations, rights and freedoms of others. But in this case we have heard those whom the director is said to be protecting say their reputations were never affected by what Queen said. So what is the director doing?


The Queen issue may seem current but this is the same SBIS that banned parliamentarians from communicating with their constituencies. Again parliamentarians were never given an opportunity to make submissions before they were banned. The similarities with the Queen issue are glaring. May I add that parliamentarians are also failing the people because they are the ones who have the power to correct this. Rules of natural justice were not followed when they were also banned.

There are also entities that are not allowed to issue statements through the radio station and no good reasons were given. What is wrong with announcing that labour unions want to hold a meeting with their members? Labour unions are legal entities in this country but they are not allowed to use the only national medium of communication available.


The director of SBIS must realise that what he is doing is not only infringing on the rights of those he bans from the national radio but also the rights of the listeners as well. Section 24 (2)(b) provides that a person should be free to receive ideas and information without interference. It is people’s right to receive information and Queen, MPs, labour organisations and others banned by the radio station are giving information to people and they are denied their rights by a single person.


I say single person because we have heard that the broadcasters are having a difficult task stopping Queen from calling and they say there are no facilities to stop her. What is a further challenge is that Queen is not backing down and wants to exercise her right, and rightfully so. In exercising her right, programmes at the station are disturbed because when she calls the phone-in programmes are disturbed. However, I fully support Queen in doing that until she is afforded an opportunity to present her side in the matter.


In my opinion, the problem also goes back to Parliament, which is failing to pass the Broadcasting Bill. If parliamentarians had passed the law that allows other broadcasting institutions, this would not be happening. Queen would have used another broadcasting institution to express herself instead of begging the director of SBIS. Parliament is also assisting SBIS in infringing people from enjoying freedom of expression.


The issue of community radios has been in Parliament for too long but parliamentarians are failing to allow them. So does this mean freedom of expression is denied in this country?

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