TZ media executives up against information bill

 

Tanzania media owners at a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Monday 22.

Tanzania media owners at a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Monday 22.

The debate in Tanzania between the government and media owners and practitioners over Access to Information Act of 2015 took a new twist on Monday as the owners requested lawmakers to suspend debate on the bill pending further review and involvement by stakeholders.

The media owners asked the National Assembly Speaker Anne Makinda to take back the proposed bill to the Parliamentary Committee on Community Development for further review.

At a meeting held in Dar es Salaam on Monday, the Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT) cautioned against tabling of the document and warning should it be allowed, it will hold back the nation’s efforts to promote good governance and transparency.

MOAT Chairman Dr Reginald Mengi has reiterated that the bill violates the country’s constitution.

“This bill is contradicting and not understandable, in my opinion, it is trying to destroy freedom to gather and disseminate information to the public,” he said.

Media owners argue the government should stop rushing to table the bill because it needs to be reviewed by all stakeholders. They contend the government has sidelined them in the drafting of the bill yet it directly affects them.

Last week, the National Assembly announced plans to debate seven bills including the highly contested Access to Information Bill before the 2015/2016 national financial year budget ends on June 27.

The legislature has since shelved all other bills and decided to tackle the Access to Information Bill, 2015. The decision has sparked a protest from media owners and practitioners saying the bill is designed to hamper freedom of the press.

In May this year, President Jakaya Kikwete declared that he will assent to the two media bills before his term of office ends this despite the repeated caution from stakeholders that the bills are in violation of the public’s constitutional right to information and the principles of democracy that demand media freedom.

However media stakeholders in the country’s capita Dodoma are concerned the bill for instance proposes a jail term of 15 years or life sentence to any person who shall seek and distribute information to a third party.

Executive Secretary of the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) Kajubi Mukajanga said that they agreed with the parliamentary committee that the bill must also pass through the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Affairs before it is tabled in the National Assembly.

“We don’t expect the bill to be tabled in the House this Saturday it needs to be reviewed to suit the demand of stakeholders and Tanzanians in general.”