Tanzanian journalists: working a minefield
Tanzanian journalists work in some of the most difficult circumstances in the world. The legal and institutional framework for media law and practice in the country is literally the equivalent of laying a minefield in the path of the media.
The countrys Newspapers Act, for instance imposes a jail sentence of up to four years for publishing a newspaper without registering it with the Registrar of Newspapers who can refuse to register a publication “if it appears to him/her that the paper may be used for any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with, the maintenance of peace, order and good government.” The Act also gives the registrar wide powers to shut down newspapers.
If British journalists think the UKs national security laws are bad, the Tanzanian National Security Act gives the government absolute power to define what can be disclosed to or withheld from the public and makes it a punishable offence to in any way “investigate, obtain, posses, comment on, pass on or publish any document or information which the government considers to be classified.” The maximum sentence under this law is a jail sentence of twenty years.
Ironically, many of Tanzanias anti-media laws date back to British colonial rule. Some like the Tanganyika Penal Code (1945) remain virtually unaltered. The code punishes non-disclosure of sources with a six-month prison sentence. Laws against “dissemination of false news” can also be traced to medieval England when they were aimed at preventing “slanderous statements against the King and Nobles of the realm.” Some of these laws have lain dormant for years, to be dusted up and applied against “offending journalists” probably oblivious of their existence.
The Tanzanian government however agreed last year to review laws regulating or affecting media practice and jointly organised a national conference with media based organisations to review the governments media and information policy. Participants included two UK based free expression organisations Article 19 and CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights.
The review however excludes Tanzanias Trade Union Act, which bars freelancers from union membership and representation. The Tanzania Union of Journalists has initiated a campaign for the review of the Act. Freelancers constitute approximately sixty percent of the TUJs potential membership and are mostly scattered in the regions from where they report for the major media based in the cities.