Dar es Salaam. Deus Valentine Rweyemamu, a social justice activist and governance researcher and advisor, thinks that Zanzibar can not fulfill its full potential without taking the necessary measures to create a conducive environment for thriving media, information, and creative sectors as stipulated in the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050.
Rweyemamu, the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Strategic Litigation, an independent non-profit dedicated to promoting a vibrant democracy in Tanzania, was responding to The Chanzo’s question on how a free press can help Zanzibar’s development efforts.
“An open and vibrant media sector is key to Zanzibar’s ambition to grow its tourism,” Mr Rweyemamu said. “Without such media, Zanzibar’s tourist attractions and potential remain largely unadvertised while foreign media takes up the role of branding and advertising the isles.”
“President Hussein Mwinyi’s signature anti-corruption drive would be impossible to fulfill without incorporating open government principles, including the free flow of information,” he added.
Rweyemamu said that one of President Mwinyi’s signature moves, “Sema na Rais,” which grants citizens direct access to him, currently has no policy or legal backing, while it is one of the most innovative moves by his administration.
“It is an initiative that could easily be scaled to involve other leaders at the national and local government but remain untapped due to the absence of a supportive legal and policy framework,” he noted.
On the other hand, Rweyemamu thinks that Zanzibar’s unemployment problem requires rapid development, which can best be achieved with the free flow of information to allow innovation to thrive.
“Meanwhile, the creative sector is suffocated by a significant appetite for censorship by the broadcasting commission, the registrar of books, and the film board, all of which predate the current pluralistic dispensation,” Mr Rweyemamu pointed out.
“Beyond the change of law and policy, therefore, Zanzibar is pregnant for a critical debate of the role of the three sectors (information, media, and creative) in unleashing the isles’ full potential,” he added.
There are two principal laws governing the operation of the media sector in Zanzibar, which stakeholders have been calling on Zanzibar authorities to amend, calling them “outdated and repressive.”
The legislations are the Registration of News Agents, Newspapers and Books Act, 1988, and the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act, 1997.
Under the Newspaper Act, the Office of Registrar licenses all print media. It empowers the minister responsible for the information to suspend or prohibit newspaper publication in the “public interest” or the “interest of peace and order.”
Press freedom stakeholders have also criticised the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission Act for allowing government leaders to interfere with the day-to-day operations of media houses.
In its State of the Media (2020 -2021) Report, the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) called on Zanzibar authorities to “entirely rewrite its media laws” that would guarantee “freedom of expression without undue restrictions.”
Zanzibar Minister for Information Tabia Mwita told The Chanzo recently that her office has held several consultative meetings with media stakeholders in the isles as part of a process to amend the much-criticised laws.
“We are going to change these laws,” Ms Mwita assured The Chanzo. “We’ll soon table the amendment bill at the House of Representatives [Zanzibar’s lawmaking body].”