In what is seen as a victory for the region’s media space, the East African Court of Justice ruled that some sections of Tanzania’s Media Services Act, 2016 violate the bloc’s Treaty.
The ruling by a five-judge bench delivered on March 28 in Arusha, said that Sections 58 and 59 of the Act violated Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the EAC Treaty signed in 1999.
Section 58 of the Act says that, “Where the minister is of the opinion that the importation of any publication would be contrary to the public interest, he may in his absolute discretion and by order published in the Gazette, prohibit the importation of such publication.”
Section 59 gives the minister for information powers to prohibit or sanction the publication of any content that jeopardises national security or public safety.
These were ruled contrary to Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the EAC Treaty, which provide for good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and people’s rights, in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Also found to be in violation of the Treaty are Sections 7(3) A up to J, Sections 19, 20 and 21, and Section 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40, and Sections 50, 52, 53 and 54.
But Judges Monica Mugenyi, Faustin Ntezilyayo, Fakihi Jundu, Audace Ngiye and Charles Nyachae ruled that Section 13, which deals with the functions of the board to accredit and issue press cards to journalists, and Section 14, which allows the board to suspend or expunge journalists from the roll or impose fines, were are not in violation of the Treaty.
The Media Council of Tanzania and two civil society organisations sued the government at the regional court, accusing it of limiting media practices in the country by restricting the type and content of news, thus infringing on freedom of expression.
The hearing started on November 2017.
The applicants — the council, the Legal and Human Rights Centre and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition — and the Attorney-General will each bear their own costs.
However, government lawyers Mark Mulwambo and Sylvia Matiku said the EACJ lacks the jurisdiction to preside over the matter.
They said freedom of expression is not absolute and that the Act is reflective of the intent and purport of Article 18 of Tanzania’s Constitution, “which pays special regard to the promotion of public awareness on issues of national interest.”