Dodoma. The government tabled the Tanzania Media Services Bill, 2016 for the first reading in Parliament yesterday as it seeks to repeal the draconian Newspaper Act of 1976, a move that could bring sanity into the journalism profession. Apart from creating a board that will accredit journalists and forming an independent council to promote ethical and professional standards, the new law also compels media owners to ensure that their employees are well remunerated.
Section 58 (1) of the new law compels employers to provide insurance and social security cover to their employees. “Every employer shall be required to provide insurance and social security cover to every person employed in the respective media house,” the subsection in question reads.
And, if you are a freelancer or a correspondent, the law will recognise you but be ready to have a personal risk insurance cover.
In the endeavour to ensure that journalism becomes a complete profession just like the way things are in the legal, medical and engineering professions, the Bill, tabled yesterday, seeks to create a board that will accredit and set standards within which news writers must operate.
The board, according to Section 11 of the Bill, shall consist of seven members who will be appointed by the minister for Information.
The members will include senior accredited journalists, the director of Information Services, the secretary of the Council, a law officer nominated by the Attorney General, one member from any one of the higher learning institutions that offer courses in journalism, mass communication or media related courses as well as two experienced accredited journalists.
The Press Card, which is currently issued by the director of Information Services, will now be issued by the board.
In cooperation with the Independent Media Council, which shall be formed by all accredited journalists, the Journalists Accreditation Board shall set the standards and code of ethics for media practitioners to follow.
The two bodies will also be required to work closely with higher learning institutions in designing the standards that are to be taught to trainee journalists while also maintaining a roll of accredited scribes.
The Board will have powers to suspend or expunge journalists from the roll of accredited journalists. It will also be legally allowed to impose fines for non-compliance as may be prescribed in the Regulations to be drafted later as well as setting fees and charges for accreditation.
And, if you are a practicing journalist and you happen to have conducted contrary to the Board’s directives or you obstruct/hinder a member or the Board in exercising its daily undertakings or you furnish information or make a statement to the Board which is false or misleading, then upon conviction, you shall be liable to a fine of Sh5 million or be sentenced to one-year jail term or both.
For those journalists who shall be usual offenders, they will be liable to a fine of Sh10 million or imprisonment for a term of seven years.
With the intent of repealing the Newspaper Act, the Media Services Bill also takes on board much of the issues contained in the draconian law, including giving powers to the minister for Information to prescribe the requirements for application and procedures for licensing of a person who intends to publish, sell, offer for sale, import, distribute or produce print media.
The minister will also have powers to prescribe the shareholding requirements of a company owned by foreign national which intends to operate as a media house.
The new law also explains in detail the various offences and their penalties but for those practicing journalists, who may not have the required qualifications when the law becomes effective, they will have five years to prepare themselves.
Speaking at a press conference he called after tabling the Bill, Mr Nape Nnauye, the minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, appealed to media stakeholders to work with the government and Parliament Committee to improve the Bill.
“There is no need for us to quarrel over this Bill. What is required is for us to improve it so that at the end of the day we will have a comprehensive law which will strengthen media and journalism profession in the country,” he said.
He noted that the Committee would meet as many stakeholders as possible in a mission to seek views on how the Bill can be improved.