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The East African : Apr 27th 2015
The EastAfrican NEWS APRIL 25 - MAY 1, 2015 Da≥’s d≥aft media law wo≥st in count≥y’s histo≥y - stakeholde≥s By CHRISTOPHER KIDANKA The EastAfrican AFTER THE Tanzanian parliament passed two information-related laws last month — the Statistics Act and the Cyber Crime Act — the government is seeking to enact another media law that stakeholders have described as “the worst in the country’s history.” Last month, the Jakaya Kikwete administration attempted to hurriedly pass the Media Services Bill under a certificate of urgency, but was forced to take it through normal parliamentary procedure after industry stakeholders blocked it. The Media Council of Tanzania, in May last year. Picture:File impose a 15 per cent cap on the amount of resources NGOs can mobilise externally, dealing a death blow to the country’s vibrant civil society sector. They will also weaken self-regu- lation by introducing a powerful regulatory agency controlled by the government. A coalition of NGOs under the CSO Reference Groups, which is lobbying against the amendments, is urging the government to drop the draconian amendments and gazette the Act in its current form. In Rwanda, while the regulatory regime governing NGOs does not limit foreign funding as is the trend in much of Africa, the registration process is burdensome, lengthy and convoluted. The scope of activities an organi- sation can engage in is also limited to what Kigali considers to be the nation’s priorities. Technically, there are no barriers for civil society groups to engage in political activities. However, human-rights “If passed in its current form, the NGO Bill 2015 will obstruct the ability of Ugandans to work collectively.” Nicholas Opiyo, executive director, Chapter Four Uganda. activists have been arbitrarily harassed or threatened by authorities. In neighbouring Burundi, which will be holding elections in June, authorities have intensified a crackdown on civil society groups and the media. Journalists and political activists have faced continuous judicial harassment, and been imprisoned or prosecuted on many occasions. Like in Rwanda, civil society or- ganisations have to wade through layers of bureaucratic red-tape to be registered. Some groups have had their application denied because the government did not agree with their objectives. an independent media ethics and rights body, says the proposed law is one of the worst pieces of legislations as it seeks to license journalists and introduce severe penalties for offenders, including hefty fines and jail terms with minimum but no maximum limits. MCT executive secretary Kajubi Mukajanga said although stakeholders had presented their proposals for a media Bill to the government seven years ago, the present document appears to have been prepared in a hurry. Among the offences proscribed in the proposed law that impose severe punishments is the publishing of fabricated or false information, operating a media outlet without registration, practising journalism without accreditation, publishing seditious material and publishing prohibited information. “Anyone who commits such of- fences shall be liable to a fine of not less than Tsh20,000,000 ($10,200) or to imprisonment of not less than five years or both,” the draft law reads. But Mr Mukajanga said that such criminalisation of professional and ethical lapses in media, even where they really take place, can only serve to “mould a society that is shrouded in fear, a society that is afraid to talk to itself and about itself, and this would be the beginning of losing even the few gains that Tanzanians have made in their democratic struggles.” The Bill establishes the Journal- ists Accreditation Board, consisting of seven members appointed by the minister, including the CEO. Its functions include enforcing the Journalists Code of Ethics, imposing fines, deregistering journalists and approving content for journalism training curricula. This means no person will be allowed to practice journalism in Tanzania unless accredited by the government. The minimum qualifications are a degree in journalism or mass communication or other media related field, or at least a diploma in journalism and a degree in a number of listed social sciences and humanities. Stakeholders believe that Section Ugandan policemen arrest a journalist in Kampala in May 2013. Human Rights Network for Journalists and local journalists had organised a demonstration protesting the closure of Daily Monitor and Red Pepper newspapers. Pic: File 17 (a) which gives the accreditation board powers to promote discipline among journalists, is an attempt to take away the function from em- 13 A newspaper stand in Dar es Salaam. The Media Services Bill seeks to license journalists and introduce severe penalties for offenders. Picture: AFP ployers and assign it to the government. Under section 4, the proposed law holds directors and individuals in management of companies, societies, associations and other bodies liable for offences committed by editorial and other staff. “MCT finds this attempt to force managers and directors into newsrooms a dangerous one because it seeks to force them to encroach on editorial independence,” said Mr Mukajanga. “It violates the principle of letting professionals run media outlets and puts media owners and directors in a precarious situation so that they unduly interfere with editorial operations.” Other offences that attract heavy penalities include lying to or misleading the Media Services Council, as well as importing prohibited publications. “Anyone who imports prohibited publications will be committing an offence and shall be liable upon conviction for the first offence to a fine of not less that Tsh5,000,000 ($5,100) or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or both,” notes the document. The Media Services Council is mandated to license newspapers, broadcast content providers, social media and news agencies. It is also tasked to monitor and analyse radio, television, print media and social media content, and enforce the media code of ethics as stipulated in regulations and hear complaints against media content providers. Such criminalisation of lapses in media can only serve to mould a society that is shrouded in fear.” Kajubi Mukajanga, Media Council of Tanzania executive secretary According to the draft law, the Council shall have powers to order inquiries into any dispute raised, warn, suspend or deregister content providers in the event there is violation of laws. It shall also isssue licences, reject applications for a licence, cancel or suspend a licence and impose fines. Section 14 (b) (i) of the Bill al- lows private media to provide services to only the geographical area provided for in the Act, which is Tanzania Mainland. “Does this mean media outlets on the Mainland should not broadcast to or sell papers in Zanzibar or other parts of the region? What about social media, which under this Bill is also required to be licensed?” asks Mr Mukajanga. Also under contention is Section 14 (b) (iv) which requires private broadcasters to join forces with the public broadcaster at 2000hrs daily for news of “public interest.” The Bill also provides for seizure and confiscation of printing equipment that has been, or is reasonably suspected of being used for or in connection with the production of seditious material. The proposed law provides for suspension of a newspaper convicted of publishing seditious material; for a period of not less than 12 months. Stakeholders say such punitive sections in the proposed law should either be scrapped or reworked. Elias Mhegera, director of re- search and investigation at Journalists for Human Rights, said it is unfortunate that while the Tanzanian government professes to embrace open governance, it seems to be on a spree to pass anti-freedom laws. Ironically, President Kikwete in October 2013 at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London pledged that his government would pass a freedom of information Bill the following year.
Apr 19th 2015
May 3rd 2015