Tanzania: Govt pledges more changes to the Media Services Act to improve press freedom

Dar es Salaam. The minister for Information, Communications and Information Technology, Nape Nnauye, has promised more amendments to the Media Services Act, 2016 to improve press freedom in the country.

Notable amendments to the Act, passed in 2016 after almost a decade of debates over the Bill that was first unveiled in 2007, were made in June 2023.

Just the fact that the government was able to make some changes to the law, considered too draconian when it was passed in 2016, brought a sense of relief to the media fraternity about the better days ahead for press freedom in the country.

Some of the amendments that were passed included removing the role of the Director of the Information Service (Maelezo) in providing government advertisements to newspapers.

Stakeholders’ concerns were that Maelezo, who had been given some contentions supervisory roles over the media, including issuing the annual licenses to newspapers, could have used advertisements as a weapon to punish ‘errant’ media houses.

The powers previously given to the courts to confiscate media equipment were also withdrawn.

However, some of the amendments demanded by stakeholders were unable to pass through Parliament due to their foundation in the respective policy, according to Mr Nnauye.

Mr Nnauye was speaking during the national commemoration of Global Press Freedom Day in Dodoma on May 3, 2024.

“Some of the suggested amendments could not be accommodated because they were based on policy, so it became impractical to amend the law in a manner that directly contradicts the underlying policy,” Mr Nnauye noted.

I have mentioned the issue of media ownership as an example.

The policy, he said, states that media ownership in Tanzania should adhere to a distribution of 51 percent to locals and 49 percent to foreigners.

“This matter is grounded in policy, and the law cannot be altered when the policy stance remains the same,” Mr Nnauye noted.

The minister assured media stakeholders that the ongoing policy review will make it easier to accommodate their demands in later amendments to the Act.

In commemorating press freedom, Mr Nnauye said press freedom in Tanzania is continuing to improve.

“We have not reached where we want to go, but certainly we are not where we were yesterday. The environment of yesterday and today is different, and journalists can agree with me,” he said.

The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2024 is A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis.

During his remarks, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa acknowledged the government’s efforts in strengthening and improving the media sector, such as the establishment of the respective Ministry of Information, Communications and Information Technology and major media regulatory changes.

In line with the theme the PM emphasized the critical role of the media in raising awareness and driving action on environmental issues, urging journalists to report on environmental challenges with depth and accuracy.

“With over 50 percent of the population using firewood and 20 percent using charcoal as their primary sources of energy, the media is tasked with promoting the use of alternative energy sources to mitigate environmental degradation, such as deforestation,” he said.

Prime Minister Majaliwa stressed the importance of balanced and objective reporting, encouraging journalists to present diverse perspectives and expert opinions on environmental issues.

The director of the Tanzania Press Clubs Union, Mr Keneth Simbaya, highlighted some of the recommendations put forward by journalists, including the formulation of a policy on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the establishment of a safe and friendly environment for journalists, the revision of the Statistics Act, and amendments to the Media Services Act.

He emphasized the need for Parliament to allocate sufficient time to listen to stakeholders’ opinions during the process of amending media laws.