May 3 annually, remains a day when the world celebrates freedom of expression and stands together to promote its full protection.

The day came into force following the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, whose anniversary the United Nations General Assembly chose for World Press Freedom Day.

While nationally we expect to commemorate this day on May 23, we are all reminded of the critical role the fourth estate plays in informing, educating and entertaining the community and the need for us all to protect it.

One of the biggest challenges the media is facing currently is how to navigate and deliver amid the existence of repressive laws against freedom of information and freedom of expression.

Over the past five years, the Tanzanian government has either enacted or begun to actively enforce repressive laws that undermine independent media, political opposition and civil society.

These include the 2015 Cybercrimes Act, which restricts free expression online; the 2015 Statistics Act, which, until its amendment in June 2019, criminalized publishing statistics without government approval and blocked the publication and dissemination of independent research; 2018 regulations to the Electronic and Postal Communications Act that subject bloggers to excessive licensing fees; and the 2016 Media Services Act, which gives government agencies broad power to censor and limit the independence of the media.

This act gives the government power of creating stringent rules for journalists’ accreditation and creating offenses and oversight powers that are open to abuse by the government.

The government adopted new regulations in 2018 requiring NGOs to publicly declare their sources of funds, expenditures and intended activities or face deregistration.

In addition, Zanzibar continues to enforce the long-standing newspaper act of 1987, which not only restricts freedom of expression but also restricts freedom of press.

This is contrary to the Tanzanian constitutions (Zanzibar constitution of 1984 and the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977) and international and regional treaties to respect the rights to freedom of expression and association of all persons, including members of the media, civil society and the political opposition.

These rights are also essential to the exercise of the right to vote.

Despite repressive media laws, budget constraints due to slowed business continue to affect media houses that why many media practitioners are being affected by the measures on an unprecedented scale.

The enforcement of such laws has since received a widespread outcry from the public, journalists and human rights activists demanding that oppressive media laws be repealed or amended.

The Director of Zanzibar Legal Services Center (ZLSC), Harusi Miraji Mpatani, admits that there are many legal challenges to achieving complete freedom and access to and receiving information though freedom of expression is one of the basic human rights and freedoms of all people.

“It is the rights that help man to reach his full potential because a human being who in his lifetime can’t find information will fail to express his thoughts and defend his thoughts as well as get information about what is happening, around him and the world at large cannot be a perfect human being,” she said.

This is the reason that all documents have provided significant opportunities for freedom on these rights including those prepared by the international community and the constitutions of many countries.

Harusi said the right to freedom of expression which also covers the right of a free press is protected under section 18 of the Zanzibar Constitution.

“Without prejudice to the relevant laws of the land, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart or disseminate information and ideas through any media regardless of national frontiers and also has the right of freedom from interference with his communications”.

“Every citizen has the right to be informed at all times of various events in the country and in the world at large which are of importance to the lives and activities of the people and also of issues of importance to society.”

However, she said there are still restrictions in the implementation and management of such provisions that lead to freedom of information and expression oppressed.

She said there is still a conflict of laws governing media and other issues, which affect the performance of the media.

For example, there is still a contradiction between the newspapers act and criminal procedure act No. 7 of 2018 on the issue of arrest without warrant.

“Harsh punishment also laid down in the newspapers act which could affect the performance of media and infringe the freedom of information and access to information,” she added.

These same rights and freedoms are provided for by regional and international instruments such as Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Tanzania has signed and ratified.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also just published the revised Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which still shield journalists and other media practitioners from any attacks and instead let them do their work freely.

Rashid Omar Kombo, said in fulfilling their role of nation-building with the strengthening of freedom of information, journalists still face a number of challenges that reduce morale and ability to fulfill their obligation to serve society.

Among those challenges is editorial independence, where some leaders are abusing their power by interfering with that freedom.

Rashid, a veteran journalist, mentions other challenges as self-censorship and the lack of resources facing many media outlets.

However, he said that journalists continue to be attacked in the course of their work citing the latest beating of a Mwananchi reporter, Jesse Mikofu.

He said such targeted attacks tell of a recurrent plight that media practitioners encounter when they perform their duties.

Different media rights report both locally and internationally highlight beatings, confiscation of equipment and forceful deletion of footage by security officers as dominant violations meted against journalists with impunity.

He said, when such acts continue, they jeopardize the media’s critical role and efforts of informing and educating the public.

“As we are aware that there are some bad elements among us, such members need to be guided better. If they continue contrary to the set guidelines, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions are not options. Let the law take its course,” he advised.

Salim Said Salim, former DW correspondent and media trainer, said that any attack on a journalist must be condemned in its strongest terms by everyone to deter other potential perpetrators.

“Media practitioners have so far done an excellent job in translating and disseminating information to inform and educate the masses about development issues, so give them all the necessary protection while in the line of duty to continue working during this period and beyond,” he said.

He said even in the worst crises where some rights may not be absolute; the government still has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill these rights, adding that journalists remain to be the eyes and ears of the public.

“As we commemorate this day, we should remember that curtailing media operations impedes the country’s progress in all aspects,” he said.

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