Tanzania’s media practitioners lack freedom of expression

By Hadija Masoud

The mass media constitute the backbone of a democracy, supply political information that voters base their decisions on and identify problems in our societies. It serves as a medium for deliberation and is the watchdog for of error and wrongdoing of those in power. Despite all of this, it’s practitioners in Tanzania have very limited freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right, as stated in Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Media freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people. Empowerment is a multi-dimensional social and political process that helps people gain control over their own lives. This can only be achieved through access to accurate, fair and unbiased information, representing a plurality of opinions, and the means to actively communicate vertically and horizontally, thereby participating in the active life of the community.

“Freedom of expression is still not guaranteed in many parts of the world. The killing of journalists is unconscionable, not only because it violates the human rights of individuals, but also because they are detrimental to good governance and democracy, namely, the flow of accurate and reliable information,” Mr Mlagiri Kopoka, the assistant lecturer of Saint Augustine University of Tanzania said.

However, in order to make freedom of expression a reality, a legal and regulatory environment must exist that allows for an open and pluralistic media sector to emerge; political will to support the sector and rule of law to protect it must also exist, and there must be law ensuring access to information, especially information in the public domain. Finally, news consumers must have the necessary media literacy skills to critically analyze and synthesize the information they receive to use it in their daily lives and to hold the media accountable for its actions.

Moreover, advances in ICTs bring even greater potential for the media to reach more people in more places and in practice enable people to have access to information and express their opinions. ICTs open up the possibility for rapid widespread distribution of information and for transparency and good governance to become practical realities

On the other hand, the Tanzanian government issued a ban on the MwanaHalisi newspaper on 30 July 2012 through General Notice No. 258, published in the official government gazette, citing section 25 (1) of the 1976 Newspaper Act. Something which limits the freedom of expression of media practitioners and the public who hold the information.

The Act favours the government without considering the public’s interest. The audience also has the right to be informed any information which will be useful to them.

The system of the government to ban mass media at its sole discretion will detriment the work of media. Information is power; through media, societies become able to solve problems socially, politically and economically.

According to the Dar es Salaam Declaration on Editorial Freedom, Independence and Responsibility (DEFIR) of 2011 which was adopted by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT’s), all media practitioners have the right to fulfill their functions of investigating, photographing, writing and reporting information and proving services without fear of interference, harassment, intimidation, restriction or repression from the state or any other public authority.

“The state organs have an obligation to provide protection to media practitioners who may be under threat of attack to their person, their office or their working tools until such threat has passed,” says the MCT.

Generally in all facets of community life, the media plays a central role as a source of information and potentially a catalyst for activism and change. Regarding issues of development, the media can encompass debate that spans from economic benefits to environmental impacts to overall quality of life. The media should be free from the government because otherwise it cannot effectively contribute to the development of the country.

Hadija is currently upgrading her skills in human rights reporting in Dar es Salaam to expand her knowledge of journalism. Her goal is to become an international advocate on issues of women’s rights.

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