New dawn in media freedom, expression

07Apr 2021
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
New dawn in media freedom, expression

PRESIDENT Samia Suluhu Hassan yesterday signaled that the government is turning a corner in its stance on media freedom and liberty of expression, with a directive that all banned media outlets be unchained.

Media stakeholders were quick to react to the president’s decision saying it was a new beginning and a big step in media freedom in the country.

Kajubi Mukajanga, veteran Executive Secretary for the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) said he commended the president because the matter was tainting the country’s image abroad.

“We believe that the ministry shall quickly work on addressing the issues without hesitation. We thank the president for seeing it,” he said, noting however that there is need for the president to look at media laws which are harsh on the media.

“One of the issues that led to closure of media houses is existence of repressive laws, so there is a need to look at the laws and change them,” he specified.

The acting chairman for the Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT), Samuel Nyala said this was a good beginning to ensure there was positive co-existence between the media and the government.

“The presence of these laws was the core facilitating factor for the bans, therefore we need to ensure that these laws are looked at and reviewed,” he said.

Joyce Shebe, the chairperson of the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), said the decision by the president has brought hope and comfort to the media fraternity which was teetering on the brink of collapse.

Salome Kitomari, the chairperson of the Media Institute for Southern Africa –Tanzania Chapter (MISA-TAN) hailed the president for ushering new hope to the media fraternity which was in a bad state.

“At all times a nation that does not speak is dead. Freedom of the media is not the number of media outlets but how far they help the public authorities to be accountable,” she said.

She also highlighted the fat that the sentiments expressed by President Samia have come at the right time, as we only have a few weeks to the World Freedom Day on the third of May.

Theh Tanzania Editors Forum said in a statement that it has received with joy the decision to unchain all media outlets that were banned.

TEF said it was confident that the decision by the president to direct the Ministry of Information to specifically point out the legal fines and punishments to media houses that go against the laws will increase transparency in the regulatory process.

“This will help, if a media house is not satisfied with the punishment and opts to appeal,” said TEF acting chairman Deudatus Balile.

In remarks after swearing-in newly-appointed permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries and heads of key regulatory agencies at the State House in Dar es Salaam, the president said by lifting the curbs on various print and other media outlets, the world will no longer regard Tanzania as a repressive state.

“I am told you revoked licenses of some media outlets, including some online television stations. You should lift the ban but tell them to follow the law and government guidelines,” she said.

Regulations governing the media must be open and punishments issued by authorities must be in line with the specified offence, the president underlined, cautioning that regulatory authorities must not ban just because they have the power to do so.

Tanzania has a number of laws that are deemed repressive by media practitioners, illustrated by a rise in banning newspapers during the past few years.

The Media Services Act of 2016 gives officials powers to shut down media organizations that violate draconian terms of their licenses, even by confiscating printing machines.

President Samia’s stance is a complete shift from the radical outlook of the late Dr John Magufuli, who is on record as having publicly warned newspapers in 2017.

The statement sent jitters down the spines of independent media outlets, cultivating self-censorship among practitioners.

Mawio, a weekly tabloid specializing in in-depth political reporting, was banned after publishing an article that linked former presidents to controversial mining contracts while Tanzania Daima was banned for what authorities termed as “continuous publication of false information.”

Mwanahalisi was banned for two years after it published an article that compared Dr Magufuli with opposition politician, Tundu Lissu while Raia Mwema was banned following the publication of an article titled “Magufuli presidency likely to fail.”

On April 16, 2020, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority banned Mwananchi newspaper from publishing online for six months. It was also slapped with a 5m/- fine for allegedly publishing false news.

On June 23, the Information Services Department, which registers print media outlets, announced the revocation of Tanzania Daima’s distribution and publication license as of June 24.

The statement accused the publication of breaching the law and professional ethics, and banned its distribution domestically and abroad.