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Tanzanian opposition demands change to media law

People reading newspapers in Tanzania/AFP

People reading newspapers in Tanzania/AFP

ARUSHA, Nov 7 – Tanzania’s opposition said Thursday a proposed tightening of the country’s media law was an “attack against the press” and demanded a complete overhaul of existing legislation.

Tanzanian law already criminalises certain media offences, with fines or possible jail sentences of up to three years, as well as giving the information ministry power to suspend any publication.

An amendment tabled by the government this week would dramatically boost possible fines, from 15,000 Tanzanian shillings (ten dollars, six euros) to five million shillings (3,100 dollars, 2,200 euros), in order to “discourage the publication of seditious articles”, said government representative Frederick Werema.
A spokesman for the opposition said they wanted a whole new law.

“This law must be fully repealed,” Tundu Lissu told AFP. “We need a new law guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of opinion.

“The amendment proposes tougher penalties and is an attack against the press.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has criticised Tanzania for relying on “an arsenal of anti-media laws” that allows the information ministry wide discretionary powers to ban publications.

Last month the government suspended the privately-owned Mwananchi and MTanzania for 14 and 90 days respectively for publishing “hostile articles… inciting the people to lose confidence in state institutions and thus endanger peace and national unity.”

Mwananchi has since resumed publishing, but MTanzania remains suspended.

Another newspaper, Mwanahalisi, was ordered to close in July 2012 and has not reopened.

Following the closures, media owners, editors, the national media council and the journalists’ union said they would boycott “for an indefinite period” coverage of the Minister of Information Fennela Mukangara and her deputy.

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In neighbouring Kenya, parliament last week passed a media bill that would impose possible penalties of up to 20 million Kenyan shillings (173,000 euros, $234,000) on offenders and even bar journalists from working.

Furious journalists condemned it as draconian, and President Uhuru Kenyatta has since said he would review the law before any approval.


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