Dar owners smell a rat in new media Bills

Saturday March 21 2015

Tanzania's Parliament building. The government has fast-tracked debate on two proposed media laws which stakeholders demand that they be allowed to scrutinise the Bills before they are tabled in parliament. PHOTO | FILE

Tanzania's Parliament building. The government has fast-tracked debate on two proposed media laws which stakeholders demand that they be allowed to scrutinise the Bills before they are tabled in parliament. PHOTO | FILE 

By SAUMU MWALIMU, TEA Special Correspondent

Tanzanian media stakeholders have urged Members of Parliament to shelve debate on the Access of Information and Media Service Bills, which will be tabled in the House on March 27 under a certificate of urgency.

Stakeholders read mischief in the fast-tracking of the Bills because they have not been subjected to public scrutiny.

Reading the resolutions reached by the stakeholders after an emergency meeting held on Thursday last week, Media Council of Tanzania executive secretary Kajubi Mukajanga demanded that they be allowed to scrutinise the Bills before they are tabled in parliament.

While acknowledging that the two Bills would improve freedom of press and access to information, he said the manner in which they are being rushed is suspect.

“In our opinion, finalising the two Bills is accomplishing President Jakaya Kikwete’s promise, but we are surprised by the shroud of mysterious around them. Our expectations were that the legislation should be open and participatory,” said Mr Mukajanga.

He said the media were not involved in the final drafting of the Bills, although they have been in the works for almost 10 years. He wants the government to publish copies of the Bills and distribute them for public debate.

“This is because getting the right to information leads to other rights and therefore, it is necessary that there be a wider participationof the public. The two Bills should not be passed in a hurry,” he added.

Chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum Neville Meena said: “We should not rush these Bills, we want to see what is in them.”

Executive director of the Tanzania Citizen’s Information Bureau Deus Kibamba said the stakeholders are optimistic that the government will involve them.

On Wednesday last week, Chonga MP Haroub Mohammed Shamis expressed his dismay at the government’s decision to table the Bills under a certificate of urgency.

Mr Shamis was also angered by the decision by the Speaker’s office to allocate only a single day for MPs to debate the Bills.

“We have witnessed the way journalists are beaten up and humiliated in the course of discharging their duties. Therefore, debating the crucial Bills for a single day amounts to muzzling press freedom,’’ he remarked.

Mr Shamis further cited the circulation ban on Mwanahalisi and The EastAfricanas a clear indication that the government was muzzling press freedom.

Tanzanian journalists are opposed to the Newspaper Act of 1976 and Broadcasting Services Act of 1993, which are considered to be anti-press freedom.

The Media Services Bill is a product of stakeholders involvement, and for the past 10 years, the government has been dragging its feet on table it in parliament.

Last week, the government announced that it will be tabled in parliament under certificate of urgency, but stakeholders are not privy to the contents of the revised Bill.