Tanzania: Government, Opposition Disagree on Press Freedom

Dodoma — Tanzania has one of the highest numbers of media outlets in the region, government data shows even as opposition lawmakers believe press freedom was deteriorating.

Requesting Parliament to endorse Sh30.8 billion for the 2019/20 financial year for his docket, the minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, said registering media outlets was not cumbersome in Tanzania.

He said during the past few months, the government registered seven new newspapers, hence raising the number to 216, until March, 2019.

Similarly, six new television stations and 15 radio stations were registered during the past few months bringing the number to 36 and 163 respectively.

"Furthermore, 72 new online content providers have been registered, to make a total of 274," he said, detailing a number of issues that the government was doing to improve the industry.

However, some opposition MPs argued that the number of registered media outlets was not enough proof of media freedom in the country.

"Instead of directing what media should or should not cover, the Information Service Department has turned itself into be a threat to them. This is unacceptable," said Special Seats Member of Parliament Devota Minja (Chadema) as she debated the budget proposal.

Her sentiments were echoed by Konde lawmaker Khatibu Haji (CUF).

Mr Haji observed that there were media houses that appeared to operate without even adhering to the code of ethics guiding the profession, but surprisingly they remained untouched.

"Media outlets that deal with serious issues are usually punished but those which defame people, including reputed persons like Kinana (Abdulrahman Kinana, former ruling CCM secretary general) remain safe," he lamented, asking: "Who are behind those media outlets?"

Detailing some of the issues that the government will undertake for the good of the media industry, Dr Mwakyembe said he has already received names of people to be considered into the Journalists' Accreditation Board, in line with the Media Services Act 2016.

The board, which will consist of seven members from accredited journalists, will include the Director of Information Services Department, a secretary of the Independent Media Council, an officer from the Attorney General's Office, higher learning institutions, public media houses as well as private media outlets, will have the key function of accrediting and issuing press cards to journalists.

It will be enforcing the adopted code of ethics for journalists, upholding standards of professional conduct and promoting good ethical standards and discipline among journalists as well as advising the government on matters pertaining to the education and training of journalists, among other functions.

Dr Mwakyembe said, as soon as members for the board were approved, the government will swiftly proceed with the formation of the Independent Media Council.

"As far as members of the Independent Media Council come from the Journalists Accreditation Board, it (council) would be formed immediately after the board became operational," he noted.

He revealed this as he was presenting the 2019/20 budget proposal of Sh30.8 billion for his ministry.

"The government will continue to walk the talk on implementation of the Media Service Act No. 12 of 2016, of which among others, it requires the establishment of the Journalists Accreditation Board and Independent Media Council," he said.

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