Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the commitment by the Tanzanian authorities to review the restrictive Media Services Act of 2016 and create a more enabling environment for media outlets and journalists. The proposed review presents a key moment to address long-standing deficits in existing media legislation. It has the potential of opening the space for media actors to exercise their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.
To do this effectively, the Tanzanian authorities should begin with broad-based consultations with independent media actors and civil society and include their views in the review process and formulating amended laws. When developed, they should ensure that the new text aligns with the African Commission's Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and international law.
The current media law has been criticised by media outlets in the past as it provides the relevant Minister arbitrary powers to punish media houses and journalists without due consultation with those affected. The Minister can also ban any publication or newspaper that prints information deemed to affect national security and public health. The Act gives the government a direct say on private media content, on issues that the government deems to be of national importance, then wields this section to punish such media houses. It also prohibits the publication of Cabinet issues regardless of whether the information is rightfully obtained. The Act restricts social media platforms through licensing processes and forces freelance contributors and correspondents to be nationally accredited.
Under the Act, suspensions have been handed to media outlets, including the 2017 ban on four newspapers – Mawio, Mwanahalisi, Tanzania Daima and Mseto. The announcement to review the Act that has been used to stifle dissent is one of a series of reforms demanded by citizens of Tanzania for the last five years.
"We urge the Minister of information to develop a progressive media law that supports and promotes media freedom in Tanzania and fosters an enabling environment where media outlets and journalists can work without fear of reprisals. The Minister should also use this period to lift the ban on four newspapers in Tanzania completely," says Dr Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS' Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.
The country's 2016 Media Services Act has been widely criticised as hampering the constitutional right of journalists and media houses to execute their mandate. This has been a violation of the right to free expression.
In light of this, CIVICUS calls on the government of Tanzania to:
- Amend all restrictive provisions in the Media Services Act of 2016 based on input from media houses, journalists, and civil society so that all provisions in the legislation are in accordance with regional and international human rights mechanisms and instruments.
- Amend those provisions requiring authorisation and registration of social media as a condition for their operations.
- Create an enabling environment for civil society organisations to operate by removing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression to ensure that media houses, journalists, bloggers and citizens can express themselves without fear of reprisals.
- Change course, cease any form of intimidation, harassment and attacks against media houses and journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers.
- Provide a conducive working environment for partnership, dialogue and engagements between the government, media houses, and journalists, through which the media freedoms are promoted and protected.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members worldwide.
CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world. The CIVICUS monitor rates Tanzania' civic space as repressed.