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Tanzania: New Law on Media Services

(Nov. 15, 2016) Tanzania’s legislature passed the Media Services Act, 2016, on November 5, 2016. (Tanzania: MPs Endorse Media Services Bill, ALL AFRICA (Nov. 6, 2016).) The text had been published as a bill in the country’s Gazette on August 26. (Media Services Act, 2016, 97 GAZETTE OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA (Aug. 26, 2016).)

The bill, which will come into force on the date specified in a notice to be published in the Gazette, applies to mainland Tanzania. (Id. arts. 1 & 2.) The Act establishes the post of Director of Information Services, to be appointed by the President of Tanzania and be the chief advisor and spokesman for the government on strategic communication, news publication, and the functioning of the media industry. (Id. art. 4.) The Act outlines the Director’s many responsibilities, which include such tasks as licensing print media and coordinating the press coverage of major events. (Id. art. 5.) In addition, there will be a Journalist Accreditation Board and an Independent Media Council. (Id. arts. 10 & 23.)

The Act also establishes crimes and penalties connected with the media. It specifies a punishment of three to five years of imprisonment and/or a fine of TZS5-20 million (about US$2,240-8,970) for intentionally publishing information that threatens the national defense, public safety, public order, or the economy or that injures the “reputation, rights and freedom of other persons.” (Id. art. 47.) The same punishment applies to anyone who operates an unlicensed media outlet, practices journalism without accreditation, without reason disseminates false information, or prints or distributes seditious publications. (Id.)

Reaction to the Act

Critics in Tanzania have argued that the Act will negatively impact press freedom and was passed hastily, without proper discussion. One of the key points of contention is the power given to the government to shutter media businesses that violate the conditions of their permits. (Id. art. 9; Tanzania: Parliament Reportedly Passes Media Law, Heavily Criticized by Press Freedom Activists, BBC WORLD SERVICE (Nov. 7, 2016), Open Source Enterprise online subscription database, No. AFR2016110943713539.)

Deodatus Balile, the deputy chair of the Tanzania Editors Forum, expressed concern about article 7 of the Act, which states that a licensed media enterprise must observe outlined standards, including “to broadcast or publish news or issues of national importance as the Government may direct.” (Tanzania: Parliament Reportedly Passes Media Law, Heavily Criticized by Press Freedom Activists, supra.)

Problems with freedom of the press in Tanzania existed before the adoption of the Act. In its report on human rights in the country in 2015, the U.S. State Department said that “[d]espite the guarantee of free speech in the constitution, there were examples of the government repressing information.” (Tanzania, COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2015, U.S. Department of State website.) The report also says that according to the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), “journalists from both private and public media were concerned about the censorship of stories by editors fearful of criticizing government leaders or policies.” (Id.) The LHRC describes itself as “private, autonomous, voluntary non-governmental, non-partisan and non-profit.” (About Us, LHRC website (last visited Nov. 9, 2016).)

In defense of the Act, Nape Nnauye, the Minister for Information, Culture, Arts, and Sports, said that journalists will be able to enjoy freedom, because the Act will provide guidance to the media industry. He noted that it outlines the roles of journalists, owners of media businesses, and printers and establishes professional bodies to oversee their operations. (Tanzania: MPs Endorse Media Services Bill, supra.)