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World Press Freedom Review
Much of the news coming from Tanzania, a country which generally benefits from a diverse media community that can, and does, express critical views, involved the government’s consideration of several laws impacting the media. In particular, discussions focused on an omnibus media law first announced by President Jakaya M. Kikwete in October of 2006. The proposed legislation had not passed by the end of 2007, but input by various actors highlighted its strengths and weaknesses.
In a much welcomed development, the President’s announcement regarding the planned omnibus law indicated that it would include provisions guaranteeing access to information held by public institutions. Media organisations had been pressing for such a law since 2001, but the issue did not gain ground until mid-2006, when members of parliament began openly acknowledging a need to protect journalists who collect and disseminate information as part of their professional duties. However, Kiwete’s 2006 statement was measured in tone, insisting that, "giving out information does not necessarily need a law. It is a matter of personal commitment by those holding the information being requested." Kiwete explained that some public officials had developed a sense of distrust towards journalists due to past misrepresentations of facts obtained from them. Nonetheless, he stated that the government was in the process of consulting with media groups on the proposed legislation, and that the bill, dubbed the Right to Information Bill 2007, would be presented for discussion by the National Assembly around mid-2007.
While enactment of the bill progressed somewhat more slowly that anticipated, discussions of the measure continued throughout the year. In November, the Coalition on the Freedom of Information, a stakeholders’ group consisting of members of the country’s media and legal communities, forwarded proposed language for the Right to Information Bill 2007 to Habib Nyundo, Deputy Director of Information Services, who expressed hope that the proposals would be considered and a final presented to parliament before the end of the year.
The proposal included a call to lawmakers to recognise that information is a human right, and to create a Commission for Information, which would have quasi-judicial powers and would work towards making sure that information reaches people. It also envisioned the possibility of filing appeals with the High Court and Court of Appeal. The stakeholders further sought the establishment of an Information Stakeholders’ Forum, a watchdog of sorts that would have observer status at the Commission to ensure that the stakeholders’ interests are respected and to provide reports on the Commission’s work to parliament. Coalition Chairman Anthony Ngaiza said the proposals aimed to minimise secrecy and bureaucracy, and to make information held by public and private entities universally accessible.
Reactions to the initially circulated draft of the omnibus media law, presented as the Media Services Bill in early 2007, were more cautionary. The bill was lauded as including several positive aspects, including a much-welcomed proposed new defamation regime and provisions on the protection of journalists’ confidential sources. However, organisations such as Article 19 identified several of its provisions as unduly restrictive. These included a proposed licensing regime for all journalists, which would require all journalists to hold certain professional or academic qualifications, and to be licensed by a central body; as well as a proposed registration regime for the media, characterised as unnecessary given that most mass media are already registered under Tanzanian company law.
In the meantime, a particular provision of a separate law, the Prevention of Corruption and Combating Act of 2007, which became operational in late 2007, also sparked some concern. The Coalition for Advocacy for Freedom of Information and Expression, which consists of members of various media organisations and Tanzania’s legal community, pinpointed section 37(1) of the Act as an unacceptable threat to freedom of the press.
That provision prevents the media and individuals from reporting alleged offences under investigation by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB). The Coalition noted that sources would be less likely to provide information if threatened with possible repercussions under the law.
It further noted that members of parliament were also prohibited from discussing corruption suspects, which it deemed "a bad indicator to good governance, democracy and human rights," given that public awareness of incidents of corruption help spur government to take action in the matter.
The Coalition also critiqued the Act’s failure to specify procedures that are to be followed after officials of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau make public cases or names of people under investigation.
Prohibiting PCCB officials from disclosing the names of those under investigation would be preferable to imposing those restrictions on the media, the Coalition commented, as doing otherwise "defeated the whole concept of investigative journalism," and threatened the efficacy of the country’s anti-corruption efforts.
Disappointingly, progress on the remaining proposed media regulations appeared to stall towards the end of the year. In late December, Muhammed Seif Khatib, the country’s Minister for Information, Culture and Sports, announced that neither the Media Services Bill nor the Right to Information Bill would be presented for enactment in the upcoming parliamentary session, indicating that both drafts required further consideration.
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