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US will work with all stakeholders to support press freedom in Tanzania

Monday May 03 2021
Donald pic

Tanzanian journalists at work. PHOTO | FILE

By Dr Donald J. Wright

For almost 30 years, the world has marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

World Press Freedom Day is a chance to celebrate the vital role that the independent press plays in strengthening and preserving free societies, and to highlight the extraordinary work that journalists, media houses, editors, staff and others are doing in newsrooms, studios, and community radio stations around the world to keep citizens educated and informed about the issues of the day.

World Press Freedom Day is also a chance to draw attention to the serious threats facing these same journalists and media organizations as they go about their crucial work.

It is more important than ever that we resolve ourselves to supporting the free press.

Since I arrived in Tanzania last year, I’ve made it a point to seek out journalists and listen to their stories. I know they are facing immense challenges. From economic and technological disruptions that are shaking the foundations of the journalism business, to the rise of disinformation networks, to a repressive legal framework, it has never been more difficult to be a journalist in Tanzania. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated every single one of these challenges.

Yet, in the face of these obstacles, I believe there is reason to be optimistic about what the future holds for media freedom in Tanzania.

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With regard to the need to adapt to economic and technological changes, I’m encouraged by numerous media outlets embracing the possibilities of new technology and innovative business models. The US government has several media development programs that are working with media owners on crafting and refining more viable business models. I feel great optimism that these efforts will bear fruit.

In terms of confronting the spread of false information through social media, I’ve been pleased to see numerous homegrown initiatives springing up to respond to the challenge. I commend the work that is being done by organizations like Nukta Africa, supported by the US government, to push back against disinformation by equipping journalists and young citizens with basic fact-checking and digital literacy skills.

Finally, with regard to the legal framework that makes it difficult for journalists to operate, I’m encouraged by the recent steps taken by President Samia Suluhu Hassan to lift some of the repressive restrictions on the media. I understand that the Government may soon form a committee to review previously enacted legislation which has hindered press and information freedoms. I applaud such an initiative and urge all media stakeholders to embrace these measures in good faith and engage in a productive dialogue to revise the laws that have undermined the free press in Tanzania in recent years. I also commend recent moves taken by the Government of Tanzania to hold accountable those who intimidate or harass journalists. I hope that these initiatives are expanded in the days to come and that once again, journalists in Tanzania may enjoy the freedoms and space to do their job.

In closing I want to thank Tanzania’s journalists for the vital role that they play in bringing news and information to their fellow citizens. This World Press Freedom Day, my team and I at the US Embassy look forward to continuing to partner with all stakeholders - public, private, and governmental – to support freedom of the press.