Government makes U-turn, to table media bill today

Minister for Information, Communications and Information Technology Nape Nnauye speaks during a press conference in Dodoma yesterday. PHOTO | MAINDA MHANDO

What you need to know:

  • Mr Nape Nnauye told a press conference in Dodoma that the decision revokes an earlier decision to defer the tabling of a bill to amend the Media Services Act due to Parliament’s tight schedule

Dar es Salaam. The government confirmed yesterday that a bill amending the Media Services Act, 2016, would be tabled in Parliament for the first reading today.

This comes at a time when the Universal Health Insurance (UHI) Bill has been postponed until future parliamentary sessions.

Mr Nape Nnauye, the minister for Information, Communications and Information Technology, told a press conference in Dodoma that the decision revokes an earlier decision to defer the tabling of a bill to amend the Media Services Act due to Parliament’s tight schedule.

Mr Nnauye claimed that the decision was not motivated by the government’s lack of commitment, as has been alleged by various players in information and media freedom.

“This parliament sitting was convened specifically for receiving reports from steering committees. It wasn’t intended for tabling bills and having debates on the new laws,” he said.

“The government can only submit a special request in writing whenever there are specific issues that require immediate attention.” Furthermore, he said, by tabling the UHI Bill, the Parliament remained on a tight timetable, noting that the tabling of the bill for the revision of the Media Act 2016 was accepted and notified yesterday afternoon. Mr Nnauye’s announcement came shortly after criticism from stakeholders, including the Tanzania Editors’ Forum (TEF), who called the delay in tabling the Media Services Act amendment bill in Parliament an unfortunate move.

TEF chairman Deodatus Balile said the whole consultative process for the bill had been concluded and that expectations were for the bill to be debated and passed in the ongoing parliamentary session. “These amendments are long overdue,” he said, adding that the right to freedom of information was for all Tanzanians and not only for journalists.

“By demanding freedom of information, we are seeking to promote democracy and accountability in the country,” he added. Mr Balile and other stakeholders were reacting to the government statement issued through the government spokesperson, Mr Gerson Msigwa, that the Media Services Act, 2016, would not be included in the order paper in this session as previously expected due to scheduling issues.

According to Mr Msigwa, the bill was planned to be tabled for discussion in the next parliamentary session in April. However, the chairperson of the Journalists Workers’ Union of Tanzania (Jowuta), Mr Mussa Juma, said as stakeholders they are surprised by the delay since they have already submitted their views on the bill to the government.

Mr Nnauye, on the other hand, said yesterday that the government had nothing to gain by postponing the bill’s reading, and he called for trust between the government and media sectors.

“The bill will become the property of the parliament after tomorrow’s reading. We believe that after the formation of a new parliamentary committee, stakeholders’ meetings will be organised,” said Mr Nnauye. After 10 years of back-and-forth among stakeholders, Parliament passed the Media Services Act on November 5, 2016.

However, the Act contained a number of contentious concerns that stakeholders desired to be addressed. One of these is Section 6(e), which says newspapers should be licensed instead of registered, with the licence to be renewed annually. Stakeholders want permanent or long-term registration.