Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli signed the Media Services Bill (2016) into a law on Wednesday despite pleas from media stakeholders for him not to assent the piece of legislation.
According to a statement released to the media by Director of Presidential Communications Gerson Msigwa yesterday, the President endorsed the Bill three days ago amid media practitioners’ expression of displeasure over its implication to freedom of expression.
Some media stakeholders, who were asked for comment yesterday, said now that the Bill has been signed into law, they would only be in a position react rationally after reading through the Act carefully.
Media Council of Tanzania Executive Secretary (MCT) Kajubi Mukajanga urged the government to make sure that the Act is made available to public so that stakeholders can discuss it.
“For now I can’t comment since I don’t know the exact content of the Act because the Parliament has made some amendments; now the government should—as opposed to what happened with the Access to Information Act—to go a step further and make sure that the Media Services Act is made public as soon as possible,” said Mr Mukajanga. The same sentiments were shared by Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) and Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF).
TLS president John Seka said his organisation would collaborate with other stakeholders to improve the content of the Act after going through the copy which was signed by the President.
“We forwarded our recommendations to the Parliament and we are happy that some of them were considered, much as others were ignored; we will issue our recommendations after going through the Act,” said Mr Seka.
However, Mr Seka couldn’t reveal some of TLS recommendations which were or weren’t incorporated in the Act.
Speaking during the meeting which brought together editors on Wednesday, TEF secretary general Neville Meena said their organisation was waiting for the Act to be assented by the President.
The National Assembly passed the Media Service Bill on August 10 after making 32 changes.
All the amendments made were as proposed by the government, and all attempts by the Opposition to change some of the sections were thrashed by majority CCM lawmakers.
The Bill drew wide criticism from the media stakeholders as well as Opposition MPs when it was tabled in Parliament earlier this month.
While the government insists that the Act is meant to safeguard and formalise freedom of press, the Opposition maintains that it will actually muzzle and ultimately bury that very freedom.
Among other things, the Opposition argued that by proposing the introduction of accreditation board, the government wants to screen journalists so that it remains with only those who will be delivering content that the government wants.
They also argued that through Section 7 (1) (b) (iv) the Act is also going to give the government a direct say on the content of private media, on issues that the government will deem to be of national importance.
The Act also prohibits the publication of Cabinet issues even if a journalist came across a dossier that indeed proves that was a Cabinet document.
The Act will also require users of all social media platforms to be licensed as well as have contributors accredited.
Another Section of the Bill which was opposed was the one that provides a fine of between Sh5 million and Sh20 million or a jail term of maximum of five years for anyone who will violate the provision of the Act.