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Why Zanzibar journalists lobby for new media law

Why Zanzibar journalists lobby for new media law

FOR over a decade of lobbying for a new media law to replace the current one with sections that obstruct media freedom and freedom of expression, journalists and other media stakeholders are almost achieving what they have been pushing for.

Key players in enabling new media law, from policy makers, responsible ministry and its departments, the Vice Presidents to the top level, have joined a consensual view that having a new media law ‘now’ is crucial at this period for development of the media fraternity.

Analysts also agree that since the media plays a vital role in entertaining, networking, and informing people about their surroundings, journalists need to have better media laws that guide them and learn skills for better undertaking of their duties.

It is for this fact that laws that guarantee press freedom and freedom of expression are required, paving way for media and the government to interact to allow democracy, economic and social development.

Renewing their call through discussions at different occasions, media stakeholders, mainly journalists point out that the current laws: ‘The Registration of News Agents, Newspapers and Books Act, No.5/1988; and the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission (Amendment) Act, No.1/2010’ need to be replaced by better laws.

At the latest meeting organized by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) in collaboration with other media organizations, with support from the InterNews, they discussed why they need new media law as soon as possible. Mr Juma Khamis, a news editor, argues “Working in such an environment with outdated laws, may be risky.” 

Ms Hawra Shamte, a veteran journalist and media consultant mentioned some of the sections in the media laws that need to be deleted and the need to look at best practice, models of democratic media regulations at the global and regional level.

Ms Shamte mentioned neighboring country Kenya as having better laws regarding press freedom and freedom of expression that Zanzibar can use in making the planned ‘Zanzibar media law’ much more acceptable by the members of the media.

She said “For us to have conducive working environment and better media law, we need to be guided by the international laws/conventions and regional protocols regarding media freedom and freedom of expression. We should borrow from countries with best practice.”

 

Hawra said “We do not demand for absolute freedom, but an independent media with less harsh regulations, as well as the standards for imposing restrictions, or otherwise regulating media content. The current laws suppress media freedom, it should change.”

The media consultant mentioned section 27(1) ‘Any police officer may seize any newspaper, wherever found, which has been printed or published, or which he reasonably suspects to have been printed or published, in contravention of the Act…’ as one of the challenging provisions in the law.

 She argues that such clauses are irrelevant as it obstructs media freedom and freedom of information because powers to the police violate the constitution, “We should promote the culture of taking matters to Court, or if there was breach of ethics and regulations, the media should be held accountable through a special independent board.”

Ms Shamte indicated further that the current media law also provides unnecessary powers to the Zanzibar Information Minister, to freeze any media outlet when he/she deems its going against laws and then report the suspension of the body for 14 days.

 

While section 30 (i) of the existing media law stipulates ‘If the Minister deems it to be in the public interest or in the interests of peace and stability, he may order the closure of the newspaper... And the newspaper will cease to be published from the specified date,” she explained.’

She said the powers given to the minister are massive, and that such powers are unnecessary in a democratic system practicing rule of law. “It may happen that a person holding the position of the minister for information, uses the law to suppress the media even in minor cases,” she cautioned.

In different occasions, including meeting with President Hussein Ali Mwinyi, the journalists, the prime stakeholders, have expressed need for new media law and proposed contents that should be wiped-out, such as the unjustifiable powers of the minister responsible for information to ban media outlet or ban a journalist from doing his or her work. 

Dr Mwinyi has given the green light for Zanzibar to have better laws, including the media law, urging the law review commission and other responsible institutions to collect and consider views from ‘all’ stakeholders, before amending or producing new laws.

The good news that emerged during the recent media stakeholders meeting, is that the proposed new ‘Zanzibar media law’ accommodates most of their views, and that it is being discussed at the Principal/Permanent secretaries’ level, after the law review commission okayed and forwarded the proposal to the level.

Zanzibar Law Review Commission Secretary, Mussa Kombo Bakari said the commission is ready to work closely with media stakeholders in Zanzibar to find a better media law “as soon as possible. I hope there will be no further delays.”

“Your(journalists) demand for reviewed media law has been there for long, but it is good that it has received quick attention in the government,” Mr Bakari said.

He said that although the new Zanzibar media law is progressing, stakeholders can still have dialogues to discuss and propose what should be in the media, and how it can be applied to overcome challenges within the legislation to improve working environment.

For her part, TAMWA-ZNZ Director, Dr Mzuri Issa said that despite the ‘struggle’ for the new media law, “There are clear indications that the government has considered our prayers and soon the law will be in place.”

Media stakeholders such as Cable Television’s Hafidh Kassim says that having new ‘friendly’ Media laws remain crucial for the development of journalists and media operations in the country.

“We members of the media need to work together with the government and society to promote development, including accountability. Therefore, we need better laws to operate,” Mr Kassim said.

But he also reminded journalists that they need to understand different laws- from copyright and defamation law to ethical regulations, to be aware of and examine, the daily dilemmas and challenges that face them when covering a news story. 

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Author: DAILY NEWS Reporter

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