Monday, October 14, 2013

Tanzania's Media Refuses Coverage of Offending Govt. Officials

Tanzanian Media Confronts Government (Pic. courtesy RSF)


The media in Tanzania is retaliating against a ban on the publication of three Swahili-language newspapers by refusing to give coverage to two senior government officials that personify the censorship. Reporters without Borders (RSF) said it supported the media boycott against the officials and has asked the government to repeal legislation that gives the information ministry draconian powers to violate freedom of information.


Important stakeholders in Tanzania’s private media decided to boycott coverage of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Minister Fenella Mukangara and Director of Information Services Assah Mwambene from October 8, after they refused to lift a ban on the publications suspended for “publishing articles inciting hostility (…) and thereby endangering peace and social cohesion.”

“We have been saddened by the government’s decision to ban those newspapers without giving them a chance to be heard. This isn’t only misleading but it is against natural justice,” says a statement issued by five stakeholders that include Media Owners of Tanzania and the Tanzania Editors Forum.

The three publications banned are Mwananchi, Mtanzania and Mwanahalisi. Mwanahalisi has been banned from July 2012 and Mwananchi, Mtanzania were banned on September 27, for 14 and 90 days respectively. According to a press release by the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), “the two newspapers were accused of publishing provocative and seditious stories intended to incite the public against the government.”

MISA went on to say that one of the publications banned in September had a headline ‘New Government Salaries 2013’ and was suspended because the “stories were likely to undermine peace and national integrity,” while the other headline read, ‘Muslims Pray Under Tight Security’ and was banned because the “story sought to create tensions between Muslims and the government.”

Commenting on media institutions refusing coverage of the two government officials and the suspensions RSF said, “These suspensions are totally illegitimate, and the unusual reaction by the privately-owned media associations has confronted the government with the consequences of its media-gagging policies.”

RSF went to say, “It is now absolutely essential that the Tanzanian parliament should repeal and replace the Newspaper Act of 1976, which gives the information ministry draconian powers and is used to carry out freedom of information violations.” The MISA press release echoed these sentiments adding that the Nyalali Commission of 1992 had said “the Act runs counter to the constitution.”

Meanwhile, MISA said, “Dr Mukangara said she was surprised at the decision, considering that the media work for the public and not for her. She asked: ‘Do they work for me or the public? This means they have taken the matter personally. I doubt that they considered the ethics that govern their profession.’”

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