Renamed Eswatini by royal decree in 2018, the former Swaziland is an absolute monarchy that prevents journalists from working freely and independently.
The government exercises total control over the broadcast media, including the only privately owned TV channel, which belongs to the royal family. Almost all media outlets are controlled, directly or indirectly, by Mswati III, the autocratic king who has ruled the country since 1986.
The level of interference by the monarchy in news content is considerable. The authorities do not hesitate to spy on journalists and infiltrate newsrooms. The minister of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) is none other than one of the king's daughters. The king’s speech-writer is also the editor of the country’s oldest and most popular newspaper.
Any criticism of the monarchy is liable to lead to a trial and heavy penalties. Dozens of draconian laws muzzle freedom of expression and information, and the judicial system is often used to undermine journalism. Under a proposed cybercrime law, "fake news" and content damaging the country's image would be punishable by fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars and up to 10 years in prison.
There is almost no viable way of producing independent news and information because the very existence of media outlets is conditioned on their support for the monarchy.
Self-imposed exile is the only option for journalists who want to express themselves freely. The all-pervasive culture of secrecy makes it hard to access information. Most media outlets were heavily criticised for supporting the monarchy during violent pro-democracy protests in 2021.
Journalists are often arrested and subjected to violence. In February 2022, for example, the vehicle that delivers the Times of Swaziland, a newspaper that tries to maintain its independence, was hijacked and torched with the clear aim of scaring journalists. In 2021, two South African journalists were threatened at gunpoint and arrested during a protest. In 2020, two website editors were arrested after criticising the king and had to flee abroad. One of them was tortured during detention. In 2017, an investigative journalist fled to South Africa after receiving death threats in connection with an article about the king's involvement in a corruption case. His newspaper was shut down on the king’s orders.