Friday, May 10, 2019

High Court ruling banning news report another blow to press freedom in Swaziland

Media freedom in Swaziland / eSwatini suffered another blow with a High Court decision to ban a newspaper from reporting on the people behind the Farmers Bank that was recently set up in the kingdom.

The Central Bank of Eswatini brought an urgent application against the Times of Swaziland newspaper to prevent it using information contained in a confidential report on the licence application of Farmers Bank.

Judge Nkosinathi Maseko supported the central bank. A review of the case by Carmel Rickard, published by Legal Brief on Thursday (9 May 2019), stated, ‘Investigative journalist Welcome Dlamini had obtained the report, prepared by the central bank’s financial regulation department, while he was working on a story about Farmers Bank. The central bank maintained that the law provided for strict security and confidentiality about all its business and that for an employee or former employee to have ‘leaked’ the document to the media was unlawful.

‘Approached by Dlamini for comment about the circumstances of the licence approval, the governor of the central bank, Majozi Sithole, established that Dlamini had a copy of the report. Sithole told him the document was strictly confidential and required Dlamini to undertake not to publish his intended report. When no undertaking was forthcoming, the central bank successfully applied for an interim order barring the newspaper from publishing. The matter was fully argued soon afterwards.’

High Court judge Maseko in his judgement noted Sithole’s claim that the planned publication was an unlawful breach of the central bank's privacy and ‘would cause irreparable harm’ to the central bank, Farmers Bank and to the ‘integrity of the financial systems of the country’. Confidentiality had to be preserved ‘at all costs’ because of the potential consequences for banking in the country ‘and beyond’ of any disclosure.

The newspaper argued that the central bank should also protect the kingdom from ‘unscrupulous business people’. Investigations into the people wanting to set up a banking business were thus surely a matter of importance and of ‘utmost public interest’.

Maseko ruled the law required the work of the central bank to be highly guarded and surrounded by ‘utmost secrecy and confidentiality’ with criminal sanctions for any breach. He granted, ‘with costs’, a restraining interdict, and barred the paper from publishing ‘information contained in a confidential report on Farmers Bank's licence application’, Rickard reported.

The court ruling is only one example of the harassment journalists in Swaziland face. In the past year alone journalists have been beaten by state forces and teachers as they try to cover public events. Two were detained at the Qatar Embassy in Mbabane, the Swazi capital, when they went to question a diplomat. A government minister called for a journalist to be arrested for taking photographs of ministerial cars parked in a public place. A former newspaper editor was questioned by police about allegations he had interviewed members of banned political organisations back in 2011.

See also

Journalists in Swaziland endure year of harassment as they try to do their jobs

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