What media law changes mean

Information, Communication and ICT minister Nape Nnauye (left) and his deputy, Mr Kundo Mathew, congratulate one another after Parliament passed amendments to various laws, including the Media Services Act, in Dodoma yesterday.  PHOTO | EDWIN MJWAHUZI

What you need to know:

  • Parliament yesterday passed several amendments to the Media Services Act proposed by the government as part of efforts to create a conducive environment for journalists and media companies in the country

Dar es Salaam. The government has advanced several amendments to the Media Services Act in its ongoing effort to create a conducive environment for journalists and media companies to undertake their tasks efficiently and effectively.

Moving The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments, Bill, 2023) in Parliament yesterday, the Attorney General, Dr Eliezer Feleshi, said the Media Services Act, Cap 229 is amended so as to remove the task of deciding where to place government advertisements from being one of the functions of the Director of Information Services.

This, said Dr Feleshi, will give the government room to decide the media outlet where it can place its advertisements in line with the market dictates.

The Bill is also recommending the amendments of Sections 50, 51, 53, 54, 55, 63 and 64 in order to set up some reasonable penalties for journalists who will have acted in contravention of the law.

“Besides, the proposed changes to the law also seek to remove from the list of those to be penalized, someone who owns a printing press, who, under normal circumstances, does not have powers to determine the content of what gets printed,” he said.

Currently, Section 50 (1) (c) penalizes someone who prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes, or reproduces any seditious publication.

The first offender in a seditious case is, upon conviction, liable to a fine of between Sh5 million and Sh10 million or to an imprisonment term of between three and five years or both. For a subsequent offense, the fine should be between Sh7 million and Sh20 million or an imprisonment term between five and ten years.

But the new proposal is to bring the fines to between Sh2 million and a Sh10 million while the jail term has been reduced to two years only.

The government is also coming up with a new Section, named Section 38, in its effort to improve people’s right to air their views.

Detailing the amendments, the Minister for Information, Communication, and Information Technology, Mr Nape Nnauye, said stakeholders brought 21 recommendations, eight of which remained as they were while others were reviewed, including the removal of criminal liability on media practitioners.

“Personally, I would like to thank all the stakeholders for their contributions and opinions. We had several meetings and they have shown a lot of patriotism for us to reach this far,” he said.

He said media players and the government had also agreed that the licensing aspect of the law should be taken care of during the drafting of the regulations to operationalise the law.

“When we talk about justice, we always look at journalists, but in this law, we have also considered the rights of consumers of the information to ensure that they get it correctly. Our need therefore is to ensure that this profession is led by professionals who will process information well,” he stressed.

Mr Nnauye urged international bodies that evaluate democracy and media freedom in Tanzania to use the latest information based on what the government has advanced in the amendments of the Media Services Act instead of relying on the old ones.

Parliament endorsed the amendments yesterday.

Meanwhile, Union of Tanzania Press Clubs (UTPC) president Deogratius Nsokolo said it was a good step. “Better get something small than miss everything. We thank the government for considering some of our proposals,” he said, adding that stakeholders will continue to work with the government on the remaining issues.

The law says both the government and individuals/companies can own media outlets.