Welcome. should I start by introducing myself, as I have been ‘idle’, not writing for several months. But, I hope that as we go along many of you who don’t know me will get the opportunity to know me.
I am embarking on this weekly column which will be focusing and dwelling on issues pertaining to freedom of information, right to information, press freedom and similar rights as enshrined in Article 18 of our constitution. The article will also dwell in other topical issues as they arise in our society.
Some people, wrongly, think that issues of freedom of information concern the media and journalists. That is not so. These issues concern each and every member of the society.
It has been put forward that the right to and the freedom of expression are the cornerstone of democracy. If everybody believes that he or she needs democracy, it then goes without saying, that the right to information and the freedom of expression is important to every member of the society.
Even the State takes the right to information and the freedom of expression seriously. That is why it enacts several laws to government it.
Again, many people tend to regard these laws as concerning media and journalists alone while in actual fact these laws affect the entire society.
One’s right to information will be impaired if such laws constrain media and journalists from undertaking their duties effectively. That is why whenever such laws seem to cross the line, redress is sought, basically from courts of law.
This happened, for example, in 2016 when three organisations, the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), approached the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) seeking declaration that some sections of the Media Services Act (MSA) enacted by the government on that year, were against the protocol of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty.
Lawyers representing the three organisations cited the EAC Treaty Articles which Tanzania has fallen short to observe when making MSA as 6(d), 7(2), and 8(1) (c).
Generally, all these articles upholds the right to information and freedom of expression as basic principles of democracy. After listening to the applicants and the government which defended its position, the court noted that some sections of MSA do indeed infringe on some EAT Treaty Articles.
In the judgment, EACJ notes that these principles (right to information and freedom of expression) are foundational, core and indispensable to the success of the East Africa integration agenda, and were intended to be strictly observed.
The court also noted that the partner states are not to merely aspire to achieve their observance but they are to observe these as a matter of Treaty obligation.
It is worth to note that the government decided to appeal the decision because it felt that justice was not done.
I am giving this as an example to show that issues pertaining to the right of information and freedom of expression to show that these issues does not only impact on operations of media and journalists.
Though many think that media and journalists are the ones targeted by these laws, but their effects reach many people with media and journalists being just the conduit.
So, wherever you are or whoever you are, do understand that any law curtailing the right to information and the freedom of expression also affect you. It will be prudent for you to take part in efforts to redress such laws.
And this also concerns the State as if people it rules are not informed properly, it will be very hard for the state organs to roll out its plans effectively. Uniformed society will also not understand well government plans, strategies and development efforts.
Besides, as shown in the case at EACJ, issues regarding right to information and freedom of expression are not just internal issues. They have impact internationally because they are tenets of democracy all over the world.
Peter Nyanje is media consultant based in Dar es Salaam