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In a quick analysis of the Media Services Bill (2015) which has been tabled for first reading Parliament during its session in March, 2015 , the Executive Secretary of the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) , Kajubi

Mukajanga pin points several pitfalls contained in the Bill with its attendant draconian conditions and penalties.

Here is the full text of Mukajanga’s analysis.

Introduction

In 1992, the Government drafted the bill for the Media Professions Regulation Act, 1992 with the intention of putting into place statutory regulation of media practice and media ethics. Upon its unveiling, the media fraternity was up in arms against the proposed legislation, as they saw in it an attempt to tame and even muzzle the press at a time when liberalism in politics, the economy and media was just emerging after decades of state monopoly and control. It was as an effort to ward off a statutory media council that the Media Council of Tanzania was formed on June 30, 1995.

In 2015, the Government has unveiled the bill for the Media Services Act, 2015 which it had initially wanted to take to Parliament under a Certificate of Urgency, which would have denied stakeholders any opportunity to scrutinize the bill. This bill, while also seeking to introduce statutory media regulation which was resisted by media practitioners in the early 1990s, appears to be an even worse piece of legislation, as it seeks to also license journalists and introduces draconian penalties for offenders, including hefty fines and jail terms that do not have a stated limit.

Although stakeholders under the leadership of MCT presented their proposals for a media services bill to the Government seven years ago, the present Government bill appears to have been prepared in a hurry. It seeks to introduce three bodies: a media council, journalists accreditation board and a media fund with overlapping mandates; there is no clarity between the Board and the Council as even the terms are used interchangeably while these are supposed to be two separate entities; and the governance structures are jumbled up, sometimes with an organ from one body being tasked to oversee funds of another.

 

Highlights of the bill

  1. Media Services Council

This is sometimes referred to as the “Media Services Board” or “the Board”, causing confusion because the bill also establishes another organ, the Journalists Accreditation Board, which is also referred to as “the Board”. The Council is established within the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority – TCRA (an already existing entity) but its chairman is appointed by the President and its six members are appointed by the minister. It’s CEO, the Director of Media Services, is appointed by the minister. The main functions of the Council are:

    1. To license newspapers, broadcasting content providers, social media and news agencies;
    2. To monitor and analyze radio, television, print media and social media content;
    3. Enforce the media code of ethics as stipulated in regulations;
    4. Hear complaints against media content providers;
    5. Perform any other function as may be directed by the minister.

The Council shall have powers to:

  1. Order inquiries on any dispute raised;
  2. Warn, suspend or deregister content providers in the event there is violation of laws,
  3. Issue licence;
  4. Reject application for licence;
  5. Cancel or suspend licence; and
  6. Impose fines .

In issuing or cancelling and suspending licence, the Council shall seek a no-objection from the minister.

  1. Accreditation of Journalists

The bill establishes the Journalists Accreditation Board which is a body corporate, consisting of seven members, all appointed by the minister. The CEO is also appointed by the minister. Its functions include:

    1. Enforcing Journalists Code of Ethics;
    2. Uphold and promote professional standards, ethics and discipline among journalists;
    3. Issue accreditation to journalists; and
    4. Advise on matters pertaining to education and training of journalists.

The Board shall have powers to:

  1.  impose fines
  2. deregister journalists
  3. Fix rates and charge; and
  4. Approve content of journalism training curricula and other standards.

No person will be allowed to practice journalism in Tanzania unless accredited by the Board. The minimum qualifications are a degree in journalism or mass com or other media related field; or at least a diploma in journalism and a degree in a number of listed social sciences and humanities.

  1. Tanzania Information Services (Maelezo)

The bill provides for the continuation of a department of information in the ministry, the same as it is now, performing, inter alia, the function of a spokesperson of the Government.

  1. Media Services Fund

The Fund is established and shall be administered by the Board. However, its finances are managed by and books of accounts kept by the Authority. Among the sources of funds for the Fund is fees paid for services rendered by the Council. The Fund has noble objectives which are to:

    1. Promote local content development;
    2. Encourage professionalism in the media industry; and
    3. Promote and contribute towards research and development in the field of information and mass media.

The sources of its funds are

  1. Money appropriated by Parliament
  2. Grants, gifts and donation
  3. Fees paid for Council services; and
  4. Money payable to or vested in the road

     

      5. Defamation

This is the longest and most detailed part of the law, and basically states what is commonly known about defamation and libel. It provides for the Board to hear complaints on defamation and makes apology and retraction a point for mitigation and defence.

  1. Offences

The law creates at least thirteen offences and provides for hefty fines and prison terms with minimum but no maximum limits. The offences include:

    1. publishing fabricated or false information;
    2. operating media outlet without registration;
    3. practicing journalism without accreditation;
    4. publishing seditious material;
    5. publishing prohibited information.

Anyone who commits such offences shall be liable to a fine of not less than TZS 20 million or to imprisonment of not less than 5 years or both.

Other offences include lying to or misleading the Council, as well as importation of prohibited publications. Anyone who imports prohibited publications will also be committing an offence and shall be liable upon conviction for the first offence to a fine of not less that TZS 5 million or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or both. For a subsequent offence to a fine of not less than TZS 8 million or to imprisonment of not less than five years. There are also penalties for sedition along similar lines.

The law also provides for seizure and confiscation of printing equipment which has been, or is reasonably suspected of being used for or in connection with production of seditious material.

In addition to these penalties, the bill also provides for suspension of a newspaper convicted of publishing seditious material to be suspended for a period of not less than 12 months. Again, there is no maximum term of suspension.

  1. General provisions

Some good things are included under this part. These are the requirement for employers to pay for insurance cover for their media house employees, and the requirement for those who transmit audiovisual content to ensure their services are accessible by persons with impaired sight and hearing and those who have developmental imbalances.

The bill provides for fine and prison penalties to a person that may obstruct the work of the Council through refusing to comply with a lawful direction, obstructing or hindering the Council in performance of its duties, or lying to the Council.

Problems with the proposed law

  1. The government seeks to regulate and even control media. Apart from TCRA which already exists and mainly oversees adherence of electronic media to the conditions of their licences as well as regulating allocation and use of airwaves, the law creates the Council, the Board and the Fund. The sum total of the powers of these governmental organs is total and unmitigated control of the media in the country. The position of MCT and CoRI is that where media should hold government to account, government should not regulate media. It is a contradiction in terms.
  2. The bill seeks to make media ethics a legal matter, with the Government determining the Codes of Ethics as part of the regulations. The position of MCT is that media professionals in Tanzania have an established tradition of writing their own codes and reviewing them after every three years. They have an established self-regulatory body to oversee implementation of the code which is voluntarily acceded to by editors, practitioners and media houses. This is an effective and democratic modus operandi which also ensures independence of the media.
  3. The bill purports to take away the minister’s unregulated powers to shut down media outlets. This is a hoax because the bill creates a governmental Council that reports to the minister. The Council has powers to register and deregister media outlets provided it seeks a no-objection from the Minister. The chairperson of the Council is a presidential appointee while the members are appointed by the minister, who also appoints the CEO and determines remuneration of Council members. The minister has also powers to assign and give orders to the Council.
  4. The bill introduces licensing of journalists. Once registered by the Government, a journalist can be deregistered. Once struck off the roll of journalists, the law says such a person cannot practice or be employed in any capacity in activities related to journalism profession or career. This provision is, to say the least draconian. It encroaches on freedom of expression in a most threatening way because:
    1. It sets a qualification that will bar the majority from practicing journalism, including those with science degrees;
    2. It will inevitably cause a “deregistration chill” leading to unprecedented self-censorship in the country;
    3. It will turn editors into cheer leaders of politicians and the powerful and kill investigative journalism.

The position of MCT is that any licensing of journalists is an affront to free expression and democracy. Such licensing is known to be a harbinger of press muzzling.

  1. The bill provides for the Journalists Accreditation Board, which is politically constituted (including its CEO), to approve all journalism training curricula and standards. This is an affront to professionalism and pedagogy. The position of MCT is that critical matters of training curricula should be left in the hands of professionals and appropriate organs like the National Council for Technical Education (NACTE), Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) and universities.
  2. There appears to be confusion as regards the mandates and governance of the new bodies being established: the Council, the Board and the Fund:
    1. The Council is formed within the Authority (TCRA) but it appears to be directly under the minister in terms of appointments, assignments, reporting and remuneration. It is not clear what the position and responsibility of the Authority’s Director General will be;
    2. The Council is responsible for the enforcement of the Code, and at the same time the Board is responsible for the same. This overlap will potentially be problematic when the organs start their work.
    3. Monies from fees paid for services rendered by the Council go to the Fund rather than the Council or Authority… yet
    4. The Fund is administered by the Board (not Council or Authority) while its account is opened and maintained by the Authority;
    5. The Council is mandated to hear complaints and the same power is given to the Board; the Council is mandated to enforce the Code of Ethics and the same power is given to the Board.

The MCT feels this bill was written in a terrible hurry, and the draftsmen did not stop to consider the stakeholders’ proposals provided to the Government.

  1. Draconian penalties

The bill creates many draconian offences (at least 13) and all with draconian penalties. Hefty fines and prison sentences are provided for. What is most alarming is the fact that the law sets minimum sentences which are themselves already too harsh, and does not set out the maximum, leaving that to the discretion of the magistrate or judge.

MCT position is that such criminalization of professional and ethical lapses in media, even where they really are true faults, can only serve to mould a society that is shrouded in fear, a society that is afraid to talk to itself and about itself, and this would be the beginning of losing even the few (but important) gains that Tanzanians have made in their democratic struggles.

  1. Some other contentious provisions
    1. S. 14 (b) (i): that private media is allowed to provide services to only the geographical area provided for in the Act, which is Tanzania Mainland. Does this means media outlets on the Mainland should not broadcast to or sell papers in Zanzibar or other parts of the region? What about social media, which under this bill is also required to be licensed?
    2. S. 14 (b) (iv): that private broadcasters must hook up with the public broadcaster at 2000hrs daily for news of “public interest”. MCT finds this problematic because:
    1. S. 17 (a) the Board is given powers to “promote discipline” among journalists. MCT thinks the disciplinary function should not be taken from the employer and assigned to Government. It is difficult to understand how such a provision would be enforced on the ground.
    2. S. 26. The objectives of the Fund are noble sounding but are vague. Phrases like “promote local content” and “encourage professionalism” do not tell much in terms of what the Fund will actually do.
    3. S. 41. The proposed law holds personally responsible directors and individuals in management of companies, societies, associations and other bodies corporate for offences committed by editorial and other staff. MCT finds this attempt to force managers and directors into newsrooms a dangerous one because it seeks to force directors to encroach on editorial independence. It violates the principle of letting professionals run media outlets and puts media owners and directors in a precarious situation so that they unduly interfere with editorial operations.

 

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