Dar’s freedom ranking falls after journo killings

A journalist at work. In Tanzania, press freedom has shrunk considerably, says report.  PHOTO | MWENDA wa MICHENI

Press freedom has shrunk considerably in Tanzania, with journalists and media houses finding it more difficult to do their work, according to the 2013 World Press Freedom Index. The country has dropped 36 places and is now ranked at number 70 of the 179 countries surveyed. It was in position 34 last year.

“Tanzania sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered,” says the document, which was compiled by Reporters without Borders.

The report, subtitled Dashed Hopes after Spring, was referring to the killing of Daudi Mwangosi, a Channel Ten TV reporter who died in the hands of police last September while covering a political event that turned violent in Iringa region.

Earlier this year, a reporter with a local radio, Mr Issa Ngumba, was found dead in a forest in Kigoma region.

A policeman has been charged with firing a gas canister that ripped apart Mwangosi’s body, killing him instantly.

Commissions of inquiry from both the government and media institutions were formed to probe the circumstances leading to Mwangosi’s death during a rally organised by Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema).

While the government report played down accusations of police brutality and lack of respect for the rights of journalists, a report compiled by the Media Council of Tanzania admonished police for “unprofessional conduct”.

The 2013 World Press Freedom Index findings vindicate the Africa Peer Review Mechanism report on Tanzania that was released at the weekend in Addis Ababa. It also found that press freedom has been curtailed in the country. The APRM report, which was tabled for review in the presence of President Jakaya Kikwete, cited the banning of Mwanahalisi newspaper as evidence that the government was intolerant of opposing views in the press.

But President Kikwete put up a spirited defence of his country’s press freedom record. “In fact, there is a sentiment in some quarters in the country that the freedom we give to the press is too much as it infringes on the freedom and rights of individuals and other groups,” Mr Kikwete said in Addis on Saturday.

He added: “If the press sows dissent, encourages violence and preaches divisions among the people, we will not hesitate to act in the interests of the country.”

The President pointed to the large number of media outlets as proof that there is media freedom in the country. He added: “Till June 2012, Tanzania had registered 763 newspapers and publications. This is the largest number in Africa. We also have 85 radio stations and 26 TV stations. Up to 90 per cent of these are owned by private individuals and non-governmental organisations.”

True picture

But media stakeholders argue that the findings reflect the reality on the ground. According to veteran journalist Generali Ulimwengu, who is the chairman of the board of Raia Mwema newspaper, there is no doubt that the report paints the true picture.

He added: “Having a big number of television stations, newspapers, and radio stations, as Mr Kikwete alluded to in Addis Ababa at the weekend, does not constitute freedom of expression. What is needed is the right to access and disseminate information without government restrictions—subject only to the laws of libel, obscenity and sedition.”

The recent attacks on journalists, he said, have signalled to the international community that Tanzania does not have freedom of the press expressed either in the culture or the legislative framework.

He added: “We do random journalism depending on whom you meet and in which mood...if you met a fair person, you get healthy cooperation. But if you meet someone cruel, the result is what happened to Daudi Mwangosi.”
Mr Neville Meena, the Tanzania Editors Forum secretary-general, said the findings of Reporters without Borders reflect the true picture. He added:

“Usually, a child feels more secure being delivered into the father’s hands. But that is contrary to the experience of Tanzania’s journalists. Recently, our fellow reporter, Daudi Mwangosi, died in the hands of police. This is a sign that lack of freedom of the press has gone over the limits.” He cited another recent example in which the TEF Chairman,

Mr Absalom Kibanda, and former MCL Group Managing Editor Theophil Makunga were accused of sedition on the grounds of a feature written by journalist Samson Mwigamba that was titled Waraka maalum kwa askari wote.

Jesse Kwayu, the managing editor of Nipashe newspaper, said that while Tanzania gave the impression of freedom of press, it had been unmasked after the recent killings of journalists. Moreover, there was subtle intimidation and legal frameworks that could be used to snuff out some news, he said.

The government is also a major supplier of advertisements and has been accused of using this power to deny business to media houses that are perceived to be critical.

The national director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Tanzania (MISA-Tan), Tumaini Mwailenga, said there is no longer freedom of the press in Tanzania due to hostility between the police and journalists. “As MISA-Tan, we plan to involve all media stakeholders and citizens to reject the draft review of constitution as the process is carried out in secrecy,” he noted.

Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?

Read Story:Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?