Parliament will soon debate the Books and Newspapers Amendment Bill, 2010 after it was tabled before the House of Assembly by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee for the Ministry of Information, Communications & Technology, MP Qedusizi Ndlovu, earlier this month.  The objective of the Bill is to update, align, and ensure relevance in those sections that no longer comply with the present environment, and/or other pieces of legislation which have been enacted since the principal Act came into force in 1963.The main thrust of the proposed amendments focuses on registration fees, penalties, industry standards, and definitions. Media stakeholders such as the Times of Swaziland, The Swazi Observer and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) submitted their views on the Bill to the Portfolio Committee. One of the critical areas of concern which the amendments attempt to address is the trend whereby unregistered entities engage in business or enter into formal contract with companies, which compromises them in the event there is a breach. Over the years this has also made it difficult for compliant entities to garner advertising support, especially where illegal publishers have eventually gone under, without fulfilling contractual obligations. Appraisal of the National Constitution prompted the Ministry of ICT to further consider the apparent challenges which arise in the event ordinary citizens are written about by improperly registered publications. Section 24 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression while Section 14 protects the dignity and privacy of individuals. Furthermore, the Ministry anticipated an uneven playing field in the event citizens wished to pursue court action against an entity which was neither in compliance with the Swaziland Companies Act, 2009 or the Books and Newspapers Act, 1963. Several clauses within the Amendment Bill seek to update deterrent fines, the registration fee, and a Bond requirement which was a form of insurance posted by the publisher in the event a complainant was awarded damages by the courts. Recently a senior civil servant was awarded E2m in a defamation case against “The Swazi Mirror,” which reportedly did not have legal representation on the day judgment was passed.


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