Tanzania has done well on press freedom global rankings this year, according to media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).
The report comes as Tanzania journalists join the international community to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, observed every year on 3 May.
According to a latest released index, RSF says Tanzania is ranked 123 this year up from 124 last year, improving by one rank out of 180 countries.
After President Samia had come to power, her administration had made considerable strides in opening up and improving media freedoms since mid-March 2021, when she took office following the sudden death of President John Pombe Magufuli.
She also pledged to continue a dialogue with all relevant partners to reform Tanzania’s media laws.
On the world stage, the index reflects growing animosity towards journalists.
World Press Freedom Day is a time of the year when the Tanzania media and, indeed, those who respect and cherish fundamental human rights of a free press and freedom of expression join the international community in reflecting on this noble profession.
This is the day when the media take stock of the profession through a candid reflection of strides made, stumbling blocks faced, lessons learned, threats faced and opportunities ahead.
As we celebrate this day, we do not want to lose sight of the fact that many members of this noble profession are, elsewhere, now languishing in jails, have been maimed and others have sacrificed their lives on the altar of this profession we all treasure.
This is the day when we salute fellow men and women, who in the line of duty demonstrated unwavering courage in the face of adversity to hold those in authority accountable by asking difficult questions, bringing matters to their logical conclusion and indeed, expose those who abuse power in society to trample on the rights of the poor, the voiceless and the marginalized.
In Zanzibar, we celebrate this day with a measure of hope for no journalist is in jail and no media house has so far been punished heavily.
For those that were punished, their punishments lasted for a short time before the authorities lifted the penalties except for one whose license was revoked because of incompliance with its conditions.
Such a relatively conducive environment for the Zanzibar media does not happen by chance.
It demonstrates the government’s level of commitment to ensuring a free press and freedom of expression which is enshrined in the Constitution.
Section 18 of the 1984 Zanzibar Constitution and Article 18 of the 1977 Union Constitution both direct the state to adhere to the international standards on freedom of information and good governance.
The increase has been attributed to the Isles President Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi’s commitment to ensure Zanzibar has a good media law that is friendly to the media stakeholders and probably better than those in place in the East African Region.
However, we refuse to throw caution to the wind because there are still some subtle ways in which free speech and freedom of expression is been muzzled.
Access to information in higher corridors of power remains a challenge due to traces of executive arrogance.
There are many public officers who give blackout on sections of the media deemed too critical.
There are also laws that restrict press freedom and freedom of information such as the Cybercrime Act of 2015 and Media Services Act (MSA) of 2016.
In addition to that, the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act of 1997 and the Newspaper Act of 1988 are still barriers to press freedom.
Indeed, while we commend the country’s leadership for allowing people to ‘criticise’ it in whatever way, the evident lack of tolerance for such critics suggests that there is still a long way to go to the ultimate media freedom.
In short, strides have been made in a free press and freedom of expression but there is a big room for improvement.
Dr. Saleh Yussuf Mnemo, the media trainer, said this is a collective achievement that the country needs to cherish.
“We should all be proud of the achievement where we can now say in Zanzibar, there is an observance of freedom of the press moving it to an open society with a vibrant democracy,” he said.
General Secretary of Pemba Press Club (PPC) Ali Mbarouk, said while this shows something is being done in upholding media freedom the justification for the improvement does not match what is on the ground.
Ali cited delays in passing the new media law, almost a decade since stakeholders proposed a new media law.
Massoud Said, a media stakeholder, said he is not convinced with what is happening the press freedom.
“The Ministry of Information is always saying there are some logistical challenges that are being worked on. We are not sure when we will have a new media law,” he said.