Journalists at the newspaper in Swaziland (eSwatini) in effect owned by the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mwsati III are to be fined by the company if reports they write result in awards for defamation damages in the law courts.
A policy has been drawn up at the eSwatini Observer, one of only two daily newspapers in Swaziland.
Revealing the policy, the Inhlase Centre for Investigative Journalism reported a draft of the policy states that journalists will be charged ‘50 percent of the insurance excess for stories that lead to libel claims being brought up against the company’ to recover lost revenue.
An earlier copy of the policy had 1 July 2020 as the start date but this was removed from the latest version pending a meeting between management and the media workers’ trade union.
Inhlase reported, ‘The policy says the aim is to implement discipline fairly and consistently throughout the company with regard to lost revenue due to employee negligence, defined as damage to company property, costing revenue by repeating or publishing advertisements incorrectly, and defamation claims.’
Newspapers in Swaziland have been under attack in the libel courts for some years. Inhlase listed a number of cases including one in 2014 when the Swazi supreme court ordered the Times of Swaziland (now the Times of Eswatini) to pay E550,000 (US$35,000) to former senate president Gelane Simelane-Zwane, who had sued the newspaper for questioning her paternity and claim to the chieftaincy of the ko-Ntshingila area.
South African-based gospel artist Sipho Makhabane sued the Observer after it published an opinion piece questioning his Christian values. In January 2017 the supreme court awarded him E300,000.
The Observer was successfully sued by medical doctor-cum-businessman Futhi Dlamini over a story about a dispute relating to his father’s estate. Dlamini won damages of E200,000 when the supreme court dismissed the newspaper’s appeal in 2018.
The Observer’s former managing director, Rev Alpheous Nxumalo, sued the paper over a report relating to his HIV status and won E250,000 in the supreme court in June.
In September 2020, the high court ordered the Times to pay E350,000 to the deputy speaker of parliament, Phila Buthelezi, and E175 000 to assistant master of the court Ceb’sile Ngwenya for defaming them by intruding on their privacy.
The Observer on Saturday is currently in court defending a E500,000 defamation suit brought by lawyer Simanga Mamba, the chair of the Teaching Service Commission, over an article about his billing of clients.
Paper must pay record libel damages