ARUSHA, Tanzania — Every May 3, journalists, activists and media organizations in developing countries around the world acknowledge the importance of World Press Freedom Day. This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom.
Most don’t celebrate it publicly, or even give reporters the day off work. But deep down there’s a respect for those operating as media professionals in hostile environments.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) state in their most recent report that 70 journalists were killed last year and 232 journalists are currently imprisoned. This is the highest number of journalists in jail on record, states the report.
Over the last year in Tanzania, several journalists have been violently attacked. Just a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) was brutally assaulted outside his home. Last September, a television reporter was killed by police covering a political opposition party demonstration.
According to the CPJ, Tanzania was the seventh deadliest country for journalists in 2012. These unfortunate events have led many Tanzanians to believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead up to the 2015 elections.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 Press Freedom Index indicates Tanzania dropped 36 points since the previous year, from 34 to 70 (out of 179 countries). This in a year of unprecedented economic growth for the East African nation.
One of the many reasons for this drop is due to President Jikaya Kikwete’s decision to shut down a Swahili language newspaper. Tanzania’s information minister deemed MwanaHalisi too critical and ceased its publication under the guise of the 1976 Newspaper Act.
The directive states the weekly investigative newspaper published news that was false and seditious:
“The government has decided to close down the production of Mwanahalisi for an unknown period according to the Newspaper Act of 1976, clause 25(i). The clause will be in effect from July 30th, 2012 based on the government notice 258 published on the government newspaper produced in Dar es Salaam on 27th July, 2012.”
Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the Kikwete government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish this repressive media law. There’s also been a strong push for media reforms to be included in a new constitution.
Back in 2008, MwanaHalisi was banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the elections. The newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Kikwete government. Since then several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom by thugs.
Media reform activist Henry Maina, director of Article 19 East Africa, writes that the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Maina cites Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
From May 3 to 5, 2013, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from all over East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania at Naura Springs Hotel for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Safer and better working environment for journalists in East Africa” and will highlight the need for media reforms all over the continent, with a focus on Tanzania, a country where many journalists still operate in fear of reprisals.
This story was first published in Speak JHR #RightsMedia.