Media stakeholders call for media law reforms

For over a decade, stakeholders and journalists in Zanzibar have been advocating for changes in media laws that contain provisions hindering and constraining press freedom in the country.

Stakeholders, including the Tanzania Media Women’s Association Zanzibar (TAMWA-Zanzibar), MCT, WAHAMAZA and ZPC, remain steadfast in their efforts to bring about reforms that they believe will be a catalyst for their industry.

The enthusiasm to report and write about the importance of press freedom, the right to access information, and freedom of expression for journalists and media outlets is currently low in the Zanzibar archipelago.

Dr. Mzuri Issa, the Director of TAMWA-Zanzibar urged media outlets to thoroughly report on the shortcomings of Zanzibar’s media laws, advocating for amendments and providing an opportunity for citizens to access information without constraints.

“Journalists, let us use our voices to highlight the legal deficiencies that exist so that they can be amended, this will bring joy to the people and make them feel part of the country by expressing their opinions without fear,” emphasized Dr. Mzuri.

She highlighted that journalists expressing their opinions freely would facilitate access to information and enhance accountability in various sectors.

“With the freedom of expression, we can reduce the existing weaknesses in the media sector by controlling rogue journalists who disseminate fake news, thus making the media sector robust and ensuring information aligns with the principles of journalism,” she explained.

Said Suleiman Ali, a lecturer at Zanzibar University and an analyst of various media laws, asserted that the analysis of these laws revealed certain clauses hindering press freedom. He pointed out eight laws that were scrutinized, including the Registration of Press Agents, Newspapers and Books Act No. 5 of 1988 amended by Act No. 8 of 1997, the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act No. 7 of 1997 amended by Act No. 1 of 2010, and the Penal Code Act of 2004 (Act No. 6) amended in 2018.

Other laws include the Electoral Act No. 11 of 1984 repealed by the Electoral Act of 2017, House of Representative Act No. 4 of 2007 amended in 2022, among others.

He highlighted the need to amend Section 27(2) of the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act No. 7 of 1997, as amended by Act No. 1 of 2010, which grants excessive authority to leaders.

“This amendment has given leaders, especially the Minister, significant authority to make any decisions,” he explained, recommending that laws and policies include provisions ensuring the safety of journalists to protect them from violations of freedom of expression.

Zaina Mzee, the Coordinator of the Freedom of Media Laws Review Program (ARFEL), emphasized the necessity of amending these laws, especially the core media laws, to establish media-friendly laws that align with the context of the media industry.

“There is the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act No. 7 of 1997, amended by Act No. 1 of 2010, along with the Press, Newspapers, and Books Agents Act No. 5 of 1988 amended by Act No. 8 of 1997. Despite their age, these laws, governing media outlets, have significantly constrained journalists in exercising their constitutional rights,” she added.

Jabir Idrissa, a media stakeholder, noted that the existence of laws hindering press freedom has led to the absence of private newspapers in Zanzibar due to bureaucratic hurdles in implementing these laws. He lamented the impact on the once vibrant media landscape in Zanzibar, attributing its decline to unfriendly laws.

Shifaa Said, the Coordinator of MCT-Zanzibar, urged journalists to use their pens to remind the government of how existing laws affect media freedom in the country.

“It is time for journalists to use their pens to demonstrate how existing impact laws the media industry and advocate for amendments in the public interest,” said Shifaa Said.

Senior journalist from Zanzibar, Salim Said Salim, emphasized the long-standing culture of Zanzibar’s people in receiving news through various channels. He urged the continuation of this culture, avoiding obstacles imposed by media laws.

“The people of Zanzibar have always preferred receiving news through various channels, dating back to ancient times. It is crucial to sustain this culture and overcome obstacles imposed by media laws,” Salim Said remarked.

The program to enhance media freedom is a two-year initiative aimed at reviewing media laws (ARFEL), implemented by TAMWA-Zanzibar  in collaboration with the Commonwealth Foundation.

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