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Relief as Tanzania Lifts a Ban Previously Imposed on Four Newspapers

The newspapers – MwanaHALISI, Mawio, Mseto and Tanzania Daima – were banned at different times on various grounds under the administration of President John Magufuli.

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Dar es Salaam. In a move that signals redefined relations between the government and journalists, the Minister for Information and Communication Information Technology Nape Nnauye on Thursday lifted a ban previously imposed on four newspapers while referring to the media as an “important development stakeholder.” 

The newspapers – MwanaHALISI, Mawio, Mseto and Tanzania Daima – were banned at different times on various grounds under the administration of President John Magufuli who died on March 17, 2021, paving the way for then Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan to take the helm of Tanzania’s leadership.

Mr Nnauye, who briefly served as information minister under Magufuli before falling from grace, handed four licences to the four newspapers during an Uongozi Institute-organized workshop for editors that took place in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam.

“Let the government start its relations with journalists on a fresh page,” Mr Nnauye, who doubles as Mtama MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), proclaimed. “If the government means to have a fresh start with journalists, it should express that commitment with actions and not mere words, is that not right?”

The Magufuli administration was criticised for its muzzling of press freedom that saw not only newspapers banned but also media outlets heavily fined while others were outrightly suspended

All these made Tanzania perform badly in the world press freedom index, including the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index that ranked Tanzania 124th out of 180 countries.

Managing Director of HaliHalisi Publishers, which publishes MwanaHALISI and Mseto newspapers, Mr Saed Kubenea said after receiving the licenses for the two papers that he feels “comforted” by the government’s decision.

“Let bygones be bygones,” Kubenea remarked after explaining that the granting of the licenses was overdue given the fact that the papers finished serving their punishment a long time ago. “We thank President Samia Suluhu Hassan for her directives, meaning without her the ban on these papers would not have been lifted.”

During the meeting, Mr Nnauye also told editors that the political environment under Magufuli is different from the one under Samia, something that he correctly observed that offers an opportunity for reforms, not just in the media sector but also in other sectors.

“President Samia has directed that [the ministry] go through all laws, policies, regulations and procedures that govern Tanzania’s media sector and see how we can make them friendly and enable smooth operation of journalists instead of being an obstacle,” he announced.

The staunchest of these laws is the 2006-passed Media Services Act that free press advocates have described as “draconian” and which the previous administration heavily weaponized against independent media. 

For years stakeholders have been urging authorities to review the piece of legislation, calling it antithetical to Tanzania’s national and international commitment to ensuring freedom of expression and press freedom.

Now, Mr Nnauye explained Thursday during the meeting with editors that the government would finally arrange a meeting with key stakeholders to review recommendations that have been submitted to authorities for the purpose of amending the law. 

“We will discuss and see where do we agree and eventually the government will table an amendment bill to the parliament to amend the law,” said Mr Nnauye who obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Bangalore University, in India.

He also announced a grace period of one more year until the government start to enforce the provision that wants for a person to practice journalism in Tanzania he or she must have a diploma or a bachelors degree in journalism or a related field.

Mr Nnauye also directed government institutions that stopped advertising through independent media houses to start doing so and those that owe media houses should clear their debts.

Previously speaking on behalf of editors of Tanzania’s media houses, Tanzania Editors’ Forum (TEF) chairperson Deodatus Balile stressed the need for laws governing the country’s media sector to be reviewed and aligned to international best practices.

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