Adressing media executives and practitioners during a tour of IPP Media houses in Dar es Salaam yesterday, on occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the UK High Commissioner David Concar and his Canadian counterpart Pamela O’Donnell said media freedom is an essential catalyst for development that any country aspiring to make progress must enshrine.
They said free and responsible media drive social, economic and political development of a nation and without it, disastrous events break out in a country without being noticed.
“Free media is not just something nice to have; it is essential," said Concar
“For instance, if you live in a country where political leaders are elected; you need the media to tell you who they are and what they stand for so that you make an informed decisions."
He argued that free media plays a crucial role in informing the public to the point of being a crucial element of consumer protection in a world of cutthroat competition in business.
“If a company wants to sell you a certain product, you need to know the company’s record and credibility before you purchase what is being sold," the envoy underlined.
O’Donnell said journalism matters because for progress to take place in a society or nation, people need information from diverse sources and that is only possible if media outlets are free.
"There are so many things that go on in any society that only free media can bring to the limelight," she said.
High Commissioner O’Donnell asserted that although journalists need to operate in a free environment, they also have a huge responsibility to undertake their duties professionally, given the impact of what they write.
The visit by the two envoys was taken up for the World Press Freedom Day 2021 whose theme was ‘Information as a Public Good.’ The day is marked on May 3 to highlight the work of journalists and the difficulties they face in seeking out a factually accurate version of what is given to the public.
The High Commissioners visited The Guardian Limited, publishers of The Guardian and Nipashe newspapers, along with ITV, Capital TV, East Africa TV, Radio One, Capital Radio and East Africa Radio studios on the other side of the street.
The UK and Canada are co-chairs of the Global Media Freedom Coalition, formed in July 2019 at the Global Conference for Media Freedom. It is a partnership of countries working together to advocate for media freedom and safety of journalists and hold to account those who harm journalists for doing their job.
Local media organizations yesterday raised their voices and called on the various authorities to recognize the contribution of journalists and adopt freedom of access to information as a constitutional right in both parts of the Union.
Judge (Ret) Mathew Mwaimu, the chairman of the Tanzania Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) said in his message to mark World Press Freedom Day,that the government must continue ensuring the rule of law and improve regulations governing the media industry.
He also suggested the need for the government to meet media stakeholders to discuss information challenges and work to create a more conducive working environment for private media outlets including providing government advertisements to private media outlets.
Retired Judge Mwaimu urged media practitioners to adhere to professional ethics and use the relevant regulations in demanding the review of media laws said to inhibit press freedom in the country.
“Media stakeholders should know that freedom comes with responsibility. The media is responsible for informing, educating and entertaining the society; but such roles must be executed in respect of the country laws and in keeping with demands of professionalism,” he said in a statement.
He asserted that political leaders should recognize the role of the media in national development, cautioning the public to avoid sharing and circulating information from unreliable sources, as such acts may constitute a breach of the peace.
Dr Mzuri Issa, the director of the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) for Zanzibar said access to information significantly contributes to the development of the country. There is every reason for ordinary citizens and journalists to be assured of freedom to work unmolested, she said.
Touching on the issue of sexual harassment of women journalists in the islands, she asserted that if there are journalists who are subjected to such acts or see indications of potential harassment they should not remain silent and should report to the relevant authorities.”
A lecturer from the Zanzibar State University (SUZA) Imane Osmond Duwe pointed at the need for journalists to do their job in accordance with the profession. They will know in detail what they are doing and what they seek, for the national interest and society as a whole, he stated.
Prof Chris Maina Peter of the School of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam said that in marking World Press Freedom Day “everyone should be aware that freedom of access to information is one of the basic human rights of every human being.”
From that foundation both the Union and Zanzibar governments saw its importance and placed in the respective constitutions the right to access information. So when a person or institution deprives others of access to information that violates the constitution, the don intoned.
Morogoro District Commissioner (DC) Bakari Msulwa urged journalists to adhere to professional ethics and be patriotic when conducting their duties, for the country’s peace and development.
“Journalists should be very careful when reporting various incidents. What I insist here is for you to be more patriotic instead of reporting something which may bring havoc or even breach the peace,” he added.