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The Media Services Bill: help or hinderance?

A Media Services Bill is back on the parliamentary agenda. Currently, the Bill is being worked on by the relevant parliamentary committee (for social services). They have invited a range of stakeholders to submit comments in person or in writing.

Twaweza is working with partners in the Coalition on the Right to Information to request more time to seek wider feedback on the Bill. There are significant issues at stake and only one month has passed since the Bill was first presented in Parliament.

At the same time, Twaweza has submitted analysis on the Bill to the relevant Parliamentary Committee.

Aidan Eyakuze, Twaweza's Executive Director, also published a number of opinion pieces on the bill in Mwananchi, Jamii Forums, The Guardian and The Citizen newspapers. Read the articles below. You can also follow us on Twitter @Twaweza_NiSisi for more updates.

Detailed analysis is attached and a summary is presented below.

The Media Services Bill, as published in September 2016, is an opportunity to address a number of long-recognised concerns with media law in Tanzania. In particular, by replacing the highly restrictive 1976 Newspaper Act, the new bill could bring media law up to date and into line with international law and best practices.

In some ways, the bill is an improvement on the previous version, dating from 2015, that was withdrawn from parliament following vocal media and public criticism. The new bill replaces a proposed government-controlled regulatory council with a more independent council, and relaxes slightly some of the controls and restrictions on the media that characterised the 2015 bill. However, the bill still contains major weaknesses that would fundamentally undermine the independence of the media, most notably by introducing a government-controlled accreditation system for journalists. Enacting the bill in its current form would be a backward step in Tanzania’s democratisation process.

Key concerns in the bill include the following:

  1. The bill would establish an accreditation system for journalists and requires that the print media should be licensed, giving the government full control over both mechanisms. In both cases, this goes well beyond what it considered acceptable in international law and in a democratic context. In the case of the accreditation of journalists, these measures would have the effect of bringing the profession of journalism entirely within the control of government, severely limiting the ability of newspapers and others to perform their vital watchdog role, and contrary to freedom of speech and international law. Licensing requirements for newspapers should be removed and the Journalists Accreditation Board should be scrapped, along with any requirements for licencing of individual journalists.
  2. The bill would establish heavy restrictions on media operations, including a requirement that private media should broadcast or publish news as directed by the government and limits on the editorial independence of public media. These restrictions should be removed, and the bill should clearly state that the editorial independence of both public and private media must be respected.
  3. The bill gives an unduly broad definition of defamation that is not in line with international law. In particular, the bill should be revised to allow that any statement which is true or which is an opinion cannot be considered defamatory.
  4. The bill establishes a broad, unclear and vague set of offences, including sedition clauses that go well beyond what is considered normal in a democratic context. These clauses should be removed from the bill.
     

 

Read more: advocacy law media media services

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