Zanzibar. The government of Zanzibar on Monday reiterated its commitment to provide media stakeholders in the semi-autonomous archipelago with new media law, with Information Minister Tabia Mwita Maulid saying the process is complete by almost 80 per cent.
Ms Maulid reassured media stakeholders at the ongoing commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, which kicked off Monday at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Unguja. This year’s commemoration’s theme is Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for All Other Human Rights.
“Calls for the need of a new media law have been going on for some time now; there’s no place I go that people do not mention the need for a new law to govern media operations in Zanzibar,” Ms Maulid said in her keynote speech.
“I want to assure you that the process is complete by 80 per cent. We have also worked on the advice from key stakeholders that their suggestions be accommodated in the new legislation. I’m proud to inform you that we have done so by almost 99 per cent,” she emphasised.
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of the media sector in Zanzibar, which stakeholders have been calling on Zanzibar authorities to amend, calling them “outdated and repressive.”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.
Speaking earlier during a panel discussion, veteran journalist Ms Rose-Haji Mwalimu pleaded with authorities to lift the boundaries they have drawn for journalists, highlighting the danger of journalists working in a self-censorship environment.
“If you have journalists who only sing praises for the government of the day, journalism stops contributing to the nation’s development,” said Mwalimu, a renowned journalism trainer, and communications consultant.
Addressing the role of journalists in achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, Mwalimu expressed dissatisfaction, urging her fellow journalists to “go back to the basics.”
“Journalism is a noble profession,” she said noted. “We have a role to play in improving our communities. First, however, we must return to our journalism basics to effectively serve that goal. In doing so, we’ll contribute to positive community changes.”
Speaking in the same panel discussion, veteran journalist Salim Said Salim decried the lack of marginalised voices in the stories, criticising journalists prioritising stories of politicians at the expense of ordinary citizens.
“We need to give more voice to the marginalised groups in our communities,” Mr Salim, who once served as editor of the government-owned Daily News newspaper, said. “All media outlets are full of stories of politicians. We have to change.”
According to him, people in decision-making positions will benefit more if they hear what ordinary people say about their communities.
“Our leaders will be better informed of their people’s concerns if journalists highlight these stories,” he said.
This year marks 30 years since Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based international organisation that promotes press freedom worldwide, organised the first Press Freedom Day with UNESCO support in 1991.
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day, following a recommendation made by UNESCO in November 1991.
An event will be held at UN headquarters in New York on May 2 to mark the 30th anniversary.
In Tanzania, the commemoration at the national level takes place in Zanzibar, with the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) serving as the host of the anniversary.