AS Tanzania celebrates 61 years of independence, the government and media fraternity have taken crucial steps towards enhancing provision of enough space for media diversity and freedom.
In fact, media stakeholders have commended the sixth phase government under President Samia Suluhu Hassan for steps she has taken since coming to power to promote press freedom and adopt participatory approach, which attract investments in the information sector.
Soon after coming to power, President Samia directed review of various laws, policies and regulations governing the media sector.
She also ordered lifting the ban on online televisions and embarked on the process of lifting ban also on newspapers and building capacities of journalists and editors, on how to produce quality content which meets the country’s needs and demands.
As a result, several newspapers and online television that were banned have been freed. On May 3rd this year, President Samia reiterated that dialogue will continue taking centre stage even when the government was reviewing restrictive laws hampering media freedom in the country.
She, however, reminded the country’s media fraternity that the law provisions were still operational, calling on the media practitioners to adhere to them.
“While advocating for freedom of press, you all need to bear in mind that every freedom must have a boundary, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours too,” emphasized the president, while gracing the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), which was at the continental level marked in Arusha.
The president challenged media practitioners to approach the issue of reviewing the contentious repressive laws with utmost sobriety and wisdom.
“That’s why, I’ve directed the ministry concerned to work on reviewing them, we need a dialogue and not being pushed per your demands,” she said.
Ms Samia was alluding to an earlier assertion from Information, Communication and Information Technology Minister Nape Nnauye, who insisted that the government was keen on reviewing contentious provisions which are said to hamper freedom of the press in the country, assuring that the government will take on board all comments from stakeholders.
According to President Samia, Tanzania has made significant progress in upholding press freedom if the number of media outlets was anything to go by. She attributed the feat to political will from her government, urging other African countries to emulate Tanzania’s journey in upholding press freedom on the continent.
“We had just ten newspapers at independence, today the number stands at 285, while there are more than 200 radio stations and a host of online Televisions,” she explained.
Ms Samia further asserted that Tanzania was on the right track in information dissemination, citing a number of social media platforms as an attest to that.
The president assured the media fraternity of a continuous protection of journalists in their lines of duty. She further challenged African media practitioners to form a continental union that will be defending African values.
According to Mr Nape, the provisions which include the Media Services Act of 2016 and the Access to Information Act will be up for review and media stakeholders will be duly kept abreast with the developments.
“The government was willing to revisit the contentious Media Services Act of 2016 with a view of enabling journalists to work with utmost freedom,” minister Nape reiterated.
“Let me remind you that provisions are still operational but we will let wisdom prevail during this period,” the minister asserted. The minister revealed that the Parliament was ready to revisit the contentious legislation and will work closely with media practitioners to ensure that it becomes a reality.
He said: “Our aim is to provide a conducive working environment for journalists, through which, their freedom and rights will be promoted and protected.” Some of the issues that have been singled out as major hindrance to freedom in the act include restricting social media platforms through licensing processes and forcing freelance contributors and correspondents to be nationally accredited.
Media practitioners in the country poked holes in the legislation describing it as hostile and an impediment to freedom of expression.
Chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) Deodatus Balile appreciated the president’s goodwill gesture, describing it as a positive step in the realization of Press Freedom in the country.