Nape hails stakeholders, optimism high on MSA amendments

THE Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology, Mr Nape Nnauye has hailed all stakeholders who actively participated in providing inputs and proposals for the amendment of the Information Services Act, which was approved by the Parliament in Dodoma on Tuesday.

The media fraternity may now have every reason to smile following the government’s decision to honour almost a half of all the 21 contentious issues in the Media Services Act (MSA), which were presented by stakeholders for amendments in efforts to intensify press freedom in the country.

On Tuesday, Members of Parliament unanimously endorsed the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill, 2023, which proposed among other laws, the amendment of the Media Services Act, which for many years has received sharp criticism from media practitioners in the country, who say it is curtailing media freedom.

“Following the approval of the amendments the Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology, Nape Nnauye appreciates and acknowledges the support of the media and media institutions within the country, as well as the international community, for their invaluable contributions in shaping the ideas and recommendations that led to the necessary changes that were endorsed by Parliament,’’ read a statement from the ministry, which was availed to the media by the Head of the Communications Unit, Innocent Mungy.

However, Mr Nape said it was essential to recognise that these rights were in line with the media’s corresponding responsibilities.

The minister also advised international organisations that assess global media freedom to utilise up to date information instead of relying on outdated data that portray Tanzania as lagging behind in press freedom.

Considering the significant and positive implications of these amendments, Mr Nape assured the global media stakeholders that the government will take proactive measures to ensure that the newly-established bodies under this Act carry out their responsibilities diligently, thereby safeguarding journalists’ rights while fulfilling their obligations.

According to Minister Nape, there is no journalist who will be arraigned in court to face criminal charges regarding his/her professional conduct.

During the debate in the House, Mr Nape said that the government had made tremendous strides in reviving press freedom in the country, paying tribute to President Samia Suluhu Hassan for her decision and directives to review the MSA.

In what comes as good news to media owners and journalists, the new amendments which were unanimously endorsed by all Members of Parliament on Tuesday, have reduced the discretionary powers of the Director of Information Services, whereas the office of the latter will no longer coordinate all government advertisements.

The amendments have now provided an option for ministries, Public Entities, Institutions and Agencies to choose any media outlet where they can channel their adverts depending on competition in the market.

Also, the office of the Director of Information Services will no longer provide accreditation to journalists; instead, the task has been handed over to the Accreditation Board via an independent Media Council as per section 26 of the Media Services Act (MSA).

Tabling the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill, 2023, Attorney General (AG), Judge Dr Eliezer Feleshi said the amendments in the MSA had also increased a provision which makes the median profession to be officially identified legally in the country as other professions.

“This law has put up procedures that will confirm journalists who will meet requirements as provided for in the legislation,’’ he said.

The amendments which were blessed by MPs have also reduced penalties that are instituted to journalists who go against the profession as well as waiving all criminal issues against journalists.

According to the AG, the new amendments have also annulled penalties to owners of printing turbines. Prior to amendments printers were co-joined in offences related to defamation. He said that the printing houses would continue to be supervised by other laws regarding investment.

Also, Dr Feleshi said, in the new amendments, journalists’ ability to gather and disseminate any information had been intensified, although he insisted that every right ought to go hand in hand with responsibility.

The government will in the new amendments be responsible to establish the Journalists’ Accreditation Board, which will among other things, oversee and supervise media ethics just like it is done in other professional bodies.

“Currently we have got no instrument in the country that is overseeing ethics of journalists, something that has resulted in blatant disregard of the media profession ethics,’’ noted Dr Feleshi.

The amendments have equally provided for the establishment of an independent Media Council, which will comprise of all accredited journalists. The council will be advising the government on all issues pertaining to the media profession.

This council has been given legal powers to establish different committees including those dealing with complaints regarding disregard of media ethics. This council has been given powers to act as a quasi-judicial organ which will hear all complaints and provide ruling, and in case of discontent by a journalist, any journalist is allowed to file an appeal before the High Court of Tanzania.

Also, the amendments suggest the establishment of the Journalists Training Fund, which seeks to intensify capacity building to journalists especially in matters regarding their profession. The

amendments have also included a provision which directs media owners to have compulsory medical insurance covers for their employees as well as timely remittance of contributions of all journalists to the Social Security fund.

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