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Tanzanians deserve more press freedom

25th January 2012
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Editorial cartoon

Even the most intractable or cynical of critics who would enjoy dismissing the Media Council of Tanzania as just another NGO will admit that is an institution with a difference.

It has seldom backpedalled on it self-avowed role as an independent, voluntary non-statutory body determined to nurture and promote freedom of the media in the country.

As it has time and again declared, the need to create conditions facilitating the growth of strong and ethical media that contribute to the building of free, responsible and effective media in truly democratic and just society cannot be overemphasized.

This time around, the council reports that it has begun implementing its new four-year (2012-2015) programme strategy by opening a national register for press freedom violations.

As noted in one of the front-page news stories in this issue, the register will record all acts overtly or covertly suppressing the professional freedom of media outlets and practitioners.

 

Examples of such acts are cited in a just-released note to editors: violence and harassment meant to block access to vital information, political interference, discriminatory distribution of advertisements as well as other forms of economic pressure, and invasion of newsrooms and newspaper printing units. 

 

It’s noteworthy that MCT takes professionalism seriously. That is precisely why one of its objectives talks of the need to ensure that journalists, editors, broadcasters, producers, directors, proprietors and all those involved in the media industry in Tanzania adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards.

And, just for the record, another of the objectives relates to the landmark decision the council has just made: To maintain a register of developments likely to restrict the supply of information of public interest and importance, keep a review of the same, and investigate the conduct and attitude of persons, corporations and governmental bodies at all levels, towards the media, and make public reports on such investigations.

We stand convinced that, by so doing, the council has lived up to expectations as the move promises to promote and defend the interests of both the media institutions and practitioners on the one hand and readers, viewers and listeners on the other.

True, some people may think that press freedom or freedom of the press is about the media operating as they wish. But this would be a misconception as many development experts agree that a strong press freedom environment encourages the growth of a robust civil society, and that this leads to stable, sustainable democracies and healthy social, political and economic development.

This assumes special significance in young democracies such as Tanzania, where even the most innocuous difference of opinion may be taken to suggest intention to do or cause harm or destruction.

We know that the country’s Constitution appreciates the strategic importance of press freedom, but surely things would be much better if this freedom really took pride of place in this “mother law”. And this is what MCT means to do with its modest intervention. It is a move with the interests and future of our country and nation at heart, and therefore worth of support from all those wishing Tanzania well.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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