The media industry in Tanzania as elsewhere in Africa has undergone many significant changes.
Although there has been a rapid increase in the privatization of the media, thus opening up new opportunities for citizens to access information from a variety of sources, the state has continued to try to restrict editorial freedom by explicit or implicit methods and thus undermining access to fundamental rights and freedom of information.
However, changes in the information industry have created new types of threats to access to basic human rights, including the right to information and expression.
These violations are also perpetuated by the private media controlled by companies and organizations.
Along with the state and private owners, influential NGOs with the power and ability to encroach on editorial freedom are also a threat to the attainment of fundamental rights and public freedoms.
The right to information and freedom of expression is an individual right as well as a general right of society.
These rights and freedoms are enshrined in the constitutions of African countries and various international and regional declarations, including the Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2002.
Freedom of the press must adhere to the freedom of the journalists to implement their duties without fear or favour of political, economic or other personal pressures within the community.
With these issues in mind, Zanzibar Media Stakeholders have embarked on the process of drafting laws on Access to Information and Media Services.
Ali Nassor Sultan, a media trainer, said that one of the areas in which the proposed act emphasized is on the editorial independence.
“Editorial freedom is an important pillar in freedom of expression, when you have media that are not free, democracy and freedom of expression are undermined,” he said.
“We have proposed this section to prevent government interference in newsrooms. We are witnessing these acts happening in many media outlets. We believe in independence, fairness and balance,” he said.
Rashid Omar Kombo, said editorial freedom would prevent leaders and state organs from interfering with media freedom.
“There is a tendency where some government officials are abusing their powers by interfering with that freedom. So the proposed access to information act has come up with a section to prevent this behaviour. We want to have free newsrooms that adhere to the values of the media industry,” he said.
He added the situation would open up new opportunities for citizens to access information from a variety of sources and restrict the government from interfering with editorial freedom.
Shifaa Said Hassan, a veteran journalist and Media Council of Tanzania-Zanzibar Coordinator, said editorial freedom is a key pillar in the media industry.
“Editorial freedom is a long-standing challenge facing our media houses, which is why we media stakeholders want editorial freedom in our newsrooms. We believe the government will support us when they discuss the draft law,” she said.
She called on media stakeholders including civil society organizations to defend freedom of information and ensure that Zanzibar has a media law which is friendly to all groups.
Dr. Mzuri Issa Ali, Director of TAMWA-Zanzibar, said despite the current obstacles, she believes the eighth phase government will listen to their cries and endorse the views of media stakeholders.
“I believe that the government will pay attention to us because this government is a great friend of journalists. What we need is to have a better law that will protect the interests and freedom of information,” she said.
The Executive Director of the Zanzibar Youth Forum (ZYF), Maulid Mohammed, noted that good governance and democracy cannot be achieved without independent media.
“That is why we are encouraging and joining hands with other stakeholders in asking the government to support the change of law so that Zanzibaris have better access to information act that has no restrictions. We, civil society organizations, cannot do our job well without freedom of expression and free access to information,” he emphasized.
Maulid, whose organization deals with youth issues, believes that Zanzibar cannot have smart, capable and responsible youths who will utilize the existing opportunities if they are not allowed to express their views freely.
The Zanzibar information services and the right to access to information act is debated by stakeholders before being submitted to the government for further discussion and later to the House of Representatives for discussion and approval.