Two community radio stations, Shiselweni Community Radio and Lubombo Community Radio applied twice for temporary broadcasting licenses but were rejected by the Eswatini Communications Commission (ECC), the regulatory body responsible for regulating the country's communications sector.
The stations applied for a non-permanent permit that is granted for a specific purpose. Both media claimed they wanted to raise awareness of Covid-19 and improve health education at the community level.
Eswatini currently has no legal framework governing community radio stations, and they have struggled for years to get broadcasting permits.
Lubombo Community Radio has been applying for a broadcasting license since 1998, but after 22 years still has not received one. The station is part of the Swaziland Community Multimedia Network (SCMN), a body founded in 2013 to campaign for the establishment of community radio.
On 22 April 2020, the SCMN applied for two broadcasting licenses on behalf of Shiselweni Community Radio and Lubombo Community Radio. The Communications Commission rejected the application with the argument that the request was made by one organization, the SCMN, and that granting two licenses to one entity is a violation of the Broadcasting Guidelines. They further stated that an assessment of the application could not be carried out due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Following this decision, the stations submitted separate applications on 20 May and 1 June. The authorities denied both requests again, arguing that the decision should await the Broadcasting Bill's enactment, which had been underway for 12 years and is not close to being finished.
Speaking with the Inhlase Centre for Investigative Journalism, the national coordinator of the SCMN, Ambrose Zwane accused the Commission of using the circumstances as an excuse. He suspected the licenses are being denied because he is perceived as a political dissident. "I told them that the focus shouldn't be on me, but on the benefits of community radio to the people," he said.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said: "Community radio stations make an essential contribution for local people to stay informed and have a key role in informing on topics and in areas that mainstream media don't reach. We call on the Eswatini Communications Commission to immediately grant a broadcasting license to these community radio stations and allow them to report on the Covid-19 pandemic".