Press freedom is more than just a concept; it is one essential component of democracy and development; socio-economic development could be achieved rapidly in a situation where freedom of the press, along with other liberties, was allowed to blossom.
We all know that those countries which are economically advanced are also those that are democratic, with high levels of press freedom.
Of all the regions of the world, Africa is a continent where this freedom is most seriously assaulted by those in power, making journalism perhaps the most dangerous profession on the continent.
In most African countries, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the independent press is hardly tolerated by the ruling elite and independent-minded editors and reporters invariably resort to self-censorship to avoid trouble.
Of course the situation varies between countries, with those that have made slow progress towards democracy generating a regime of the worst human rights abuses, including attacks on journalists.
We know of States where the independent press is either severely emasculated or does not exist at all. We could name them but space does not allow.
Tanzania does not fall in that category. Since the advent of multi-party democracy, the successive governments have evolved a culture of respecting human rights and freedom of the press.
Thus, today we have a better situation of this freedom than there was 20 years ago. This observation can be supported by several facts: the rising number of independent newspapers that are being published; the growing number of private radio and TV stations that are being established; the non-existence of a single detained journalist in our jails; the unfettered freedom with which the public and the media can criticize government without fear of reprisals; the establishment of an independent media council – the Media Council of Tanzania (MTC) – by the scribes themselves and so forth. These are no mean achievements in terms of press freedom expansion!
However, several legal barriers to freedom of the press are still in place: the various oppressive laws and anti-freedom of speech legislations, which the government has refused to abolish.
These obnoxious laws have occasionally been used by the authorities to intimidate journalists and ban newspapers, which published things the government held in bad taste.
A good example is the current ban of the Kiswahili weekly MwanaHalisi. People want to see these laws scrapped so that “irresponsible journalism” could be dealt with at the MCT or in court.
But, besides the archaic legislations, which constitute a great barrier to the freedom of expression, there is the problem of harassment, intimidation of, and (sometimes) assault on, journalists by some state organs, notably those responsible for law enforcement.
This problem manifested itself recently when a TV reporter David Mwangosi was brutally killed allegedly by a teargas canister fired by one of the policemen who were trying to suppress the Chadema meeting at Nyololo Village in Iringa Region.
That horrible incident tells a lot about the anti-press freedom culture still entrenched in the corridors of power and how arduous the journey to real freedom still is for the Tanzanian newsmen and women.
It also raises serious questions about the safety of journalists when on duty, and especially when covering violence-ridden political situations in the country.
This is a matter of grave concern because, as we all know, journalists go about their duties in the field “armed” only with their harmless working tools: pens and pencils, notebooks, cameras, tape recorders, sharp eyes, ears and tongues as well as their brains.
Nothing more! And when Mwangosi went to Nyololo on duty to cover the afore-mentioned news-worthy event and got attacked and killed, he was carrying some of these tools which he wanted to use to gather news and inform the public. He was defenceless!
It is a big shame that in this day and age we have in this country abominable incidents of armed law enforcers assaulting (and killing) unarmed civilians who are supposed to look to the former for protection.
But equally shameful is that after what happened in Nyololo no one in the Home Office has taken political responsibility and stepped down.
By: Evarist Kagaruki (political analyst based in Dar es Salaam)
Date: Sunday, 23 September 2012
Source: The Citizen