Dar’s draft media law worst in country’s history - stakeholders

Saturday April 25 2015

A newspaper stand in Dar es Salaam. The Media Services Bill seeks to license journalists and introduce severe penalties for offenders. AFP PHOTO | DANIEL HAYDUK

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.”

READ: Tanzania passes new draconian data law

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.

READ: Dar owners smell a rat in new media Bills

The Media Council of Tanzania, 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 offences 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 Journalists 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 17 (a) which gives the accreditation board powers to promote discipline among journalists, is an attempt to take away the function from employers 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 penalties 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.

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 issue licences, reject applications for a licence, cancel or suspend a licence and impose fines.

Section 14 (b) (i) of the Bill allows 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 2000h 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 research 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.