Arusha. Hearing of a case challenging the Media Services Act, 2016 has begun here, with the government maintaining that the freedom of expression and information was not absolute.
The principal state attorney Mark Mulwambo told the First Instance Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) on Tuesday, March 13, this year that the new media law was reflective of both the country's 1977 Constitution and the East African Community (EAC) Treaty.
The media stakeholders through the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) had filed a case challenging some articles in the law.
The applicants who are represented by advocates Jenerali Ulimwengu, Donald Deya, Fulgence Massawe, Jebra Kambole and Mpale Mpoki opposed several articles of the legislation, claiming they impinged freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
The complainants further argued that some of the provisions contravened the EAC Treaty which urges member states to abide by and protect the principles of good governance, democratic rules and rule of law, among others.
But Mulwambo, who was flanked by the state attorney Sylvia Matiku, maintained that the cited sections of the Act do not infringe principles of freedom of expression and information as the petitioners allege.
"We pray for dismissal of the reference, costs to be met by the applicants and any other order of the court may deem suitable", he stated.
The panel of three EACJ judges presiding over the case comprises Principal Judge Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi, Justice Fakihi A. Jundu and Justice Dr Faustin Ntezilyayo.
Tanzania Parliament enacted the 2016 Media Services Act No. 12 on November 16, 2016, and President John Magufuli assented it to law on November 16 in the same year.
The MCT, LHRC and THRDC allege at the court that the Act is a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression and thereby violates Tanzania’s obligation to uphold and protect human and people’s rights standards as stipulated in Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty.
The Media Services Act, according to the parties to the suit, comes as an unjustified restriction on the freedom of expression and of the press, which is a cornerstone of the principle of democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and good governance.
The petitioners want the court to declare that the cited provisions violate the EAC Treaty and the freedom of expression and information.
They also want the regional court to cease application of the same and consider repealing them to conform to the EAC Treaty.
The applicants are required to file a summary of their submissions at the court on April 4, 2018, for the respondents to file their responses on May 14, 2018, ready for both sides to embark on a legal discussion on May 28, 2018, and the court to set a date for hearing of the case to take off.