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World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
There are encouraging signs for journalists in Tanzania and the independent media is becoming stronger and increasingly more confident. Independent organisations now rival their state counterparts in both power and reach. There is also a growing acceptance from all sides that plurality of the media leads to greater democracy and an increased vibrancy. However, as in previous years, there is one threat to these improvements and that is the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar where the local government has persistently victimised a newspaper.
During February ARTICLE 19 published a detailed analysis of the Tanzanian government's Information and Broadcasting Policy (1). Based on their review ARTICLE 19 said, "The Policy contains a number of commendable commitments, including to bring Tanzanian law and practice into line with international standards. Other commitments, however, appear to contradict this, as does a recent law on telecommunications."
In particular, the press freedom organisation highlighted fears over some sections which included, the scope of the policy statement, the failure to commit to transforming government media into public service media; the continuation of registration of newspapers; the failure to promote independent bodies, particularly for broadcast regulation; a number of vague and excessively broad content restrictions; and the failure to address the issue of media concentration." ARTICLE 19 urged the Tanzanian government to review these sections and bring them into line with international standards on press freedom.
In March, the immigration service ended a long running saga when it granted Jenerali Twaha Ulimwengu citizenship. In 2001, the government had announced that Ulimwengu, a prominent journalist and chairperson of Habari Corporation Limited, as well as three other individuals, had been stripped of their citizenship for allegedly failing to prove their parents' citizenship.
The four individuals were all advised to apply for naturalisation in order to address "technical problems." On 13 February 2002, it was revealed they had all been granted naturalisation by the home affairs minister, with the exception of Ulimwengu. The government decision threatened to undermine Tanzania's growing reputation for supporting press freedom in a region where the media are routinely stifled and it reinforced the notion that the journalist was being unfairly punished for his work.
On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, The African newspaper printed a powerful statement in support of journalism in Tanzania. The statement called for the "right to information" to be embodied in the country's Constitution and called on the government to be responsive and answerable to the citizens of Tanzania. Furthermore, still on the subject of the free flow of information, the statement said, "If it is held that man was born free, and if that freedom is [an] inalienable right, then that freedom has to guarantee man's right to information. We think that any legislation that curtails that right, is anti-democracy and anti-freedom."
Another view of the Tanzanian media was provided by a former Attorney General, Justice Mark Bomani to mark the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. When speaking in Dar Es Salaam, the judge said, "the elements of duress and intimidation in the media must be resisted." He then cautioned the media "to do everything to fight the temptation on the part of some newspapers to print sensational… stories as a way of boosting sales and to take extra care in ensuring the truth of the stories to be published, so as to avoid defamation and libel cases."
While there is a lively debate on mainland Tanzania regarding the media, events on the isles of Zanzibar are somewhat different. On 24 November, MISA reported that the High Court of Tanzania on Zanzibar had ruled the legal case instituted by the Dira newspaper management team to challenge the act used to close the only independent weekly on the Islands.
In the judgement, High Court Judge Mshibe Ali Bakari indicated that both Dira and the government had violated rules and laws in the operation to close the newspaper. The court said the minister responsible for information abused his power when he closed the paper, but also said the newspaper had been operating illegally. Because of this the newspaper will remain closed.
Speaking about the case, a spokesperson for the newspaper said, "The issue of registration has never been raised during our operation. It was raised today by the High Court. We must sit down and chart a way forward to take the matter to the Court of Appeal." The newspaper was originally suspended on 23 November 2003 for violating "professional ethics."
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