Friday, August 17, 2012

GOVERNMENT DEFENDS ITS DRACONIAN LAW






Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda of Tanzania defended a draconian media law in parliament this morning.
He was responding to opposition leader Freeman Mbowe who queried the government habit of using the law that contravened the constitution, to suppress freedom of information in the country.

Specifically, the opposition leader wanted to know why the government banned MwanaHALISI weekly without giving the concerned an opportunity to be heard.
The paper was banned indefinitely effective 30 July instant for alleged sedition in its three consecutive issues that dug deep into the abduction and torture of Dr. Steven Ulimboka, leader of the doctors association of Tanzania.

As if to put a finger in the government’s eye, Mr. Mbowe asked why the government didn’t go to court, as it has done in two previous cases – with doctors and teachers – and instead chose to ban the paper indefinitely and without its owners and editors being heard.

He also wanted to know, in his follow up question, when the government will abandon the draconian Newspaper Act (1976) which it applies to ban media outlets.
The prime minister answered coolly, that his government will continue to apply and employ the draconian media law because it was legislated “by this house.”

Exhibiting unfamiliarity with the law itself, the prime minister said the government has taken action and it was upon the aggrieved to appeal to authority (minister) concerned.
The legislation, a legal asphyxia, besides giving powers to the minister concerned with information to ban and, or deregister a newspaper without prior notice and without giving any reason, it does not provide space for appeal.

Newspaper publishers and editors in Tanzania are left with very limited options. To challenge, in a court of law, the modality under which the order was given; to challenge the legislation as being unconstitutional and, or stand with local and international civil societies and media fraternity to put pressure on government, with the hope that at one good moment, sense will prevail on the part of authority (!)
This is the second time the government is interfering with the publication of MwanaHALISI. It suspended publication of the weekly for 90 days in 2008. This time, the government has banned the paper indefinitely.

Find hereunder, details on the three issues of the paper in question on what would have possibly irked the government. It was issued by MwanaHALISI.

What could have been the reason behind the ban of MwanaHALISI?

In its statement announcing the ban on MwanaHALISI, the government cited three most recent issues of the weekly which it said had carried news and feature articles which “…created and spread fear in society;” and that they were seditious and did not measure to “ethical standards.”

The three successive issues are No. 302 (July 11 – 17), No. 303 (July 18 – 24) and No. 304 July 25 – 31).

Content

(i) Issue No. 302: The major story was about the deputy national security chief, one Mr. Jack Zoka, allegedly being behind a plot “to eliminate critics of government.”

The story which links Zoka to the abduction and torture of Dr. Steven Ulimboka –leader of doctors on strike against government insensitivity in public hospitals – carries a picture of president Jakaya Kikwete in a rather tired or resigned or sorrowful mood; and well below, a picture of Dk. Ulimboka in bed at an intensive care unit (ICU) of Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam.

The paper still holds its source of story but also quotes leaders of leading opposition Chadema party as alleging the same at an august press conference in Dar es Salaam.

It also reports that Dr. Ulimboka still insists that a man, who arranged a meeting to where he was abducted, was working with the “state house” – office of the president under which operate the intelligence services (TISS).

Admittedly, this issue was really packed. It contained a two-page article on the doctors’demands and rationale for their strike; three pages of analysis of Dk. Ulimboka’s abduction and torture; and an authoritative editorial comment on the need for an independent commission to investigate the matter.

(ii) Issue No. 303: The major story was about Dr. Ulimboka; quoted as insisting that those who abducted and tortured him were from the state house.

Photographs accompanying the major story included that of the president – looking inwardly and kind of perplexed; chief of police in Dar es Salaam, Suleiman Kova; and in between a picture of Dr. Ulimboka at ICU.

Besides a front page story, there were four other pages devoted to analysis on what befell Dr. Ulimboka.

(iii) Issue No. 304:This is the most recent issue that must have not only irritated, but also embarrassed government and forced it to flex its muscle –banning the weekly indefinitely.

The major story was about one Ramadhan Ighondu (alias Rama; alias Abeid); identified as an official at the intelligence unit (TISS) and one who had been communicating with Dr. Ulimboka until his abduction and torture. It carries details about Rama and reveals telephone numbers to which Rama called before and well after the abduction.

A message from a regular reader of MwanaHALISI said a day after the clampdown,“You sort of went too far. You threatened to link the revealed phone numbers reporting to authority at TISS or the executive. When you reach such point, they necessarily must be shocked and block or ban you…”

Pictures on the front page included that of Dr. Ulimboka at the ICU, President Jakaya Kikwete and chief of intelligence, Rashid Othman. Inside pages carrying the same story were accompanied by pictures: Minister of State (Good Governance) George Mkuchika and Deputy chief of TISS, Jack Zoka.

Besides the report, the issue carried among others, one analysis on Dr. Ulimboka; a report on emerging scandal at the ministry of energy; and part of a speech by opposition member of parliament – on the ministry of internal affairs – which, the speaker had ordered not to be read in the house.

Since the ban of the weekly, voice has been heard from over 30 civil societies in the country, condemning government action and calling for immediate withdrawal of the order.

This is because there are no grounds for the clamp-down. The stories are neither seditious nor ethically questionable. They are, if you want, very revealing, true and correct – which is all about ethics. They have not been challenged by any individual or authority. To defeat them you need to apply a draconian law in the form of Newspaper Act (1976), which gives the minister responsible for information powers to ban and even deregister any outlet without prior notice and without giving any reason.

Some media houses, institutions and other fora, conscious of their rights and freedoms in this particular area, have held government by the neck, demanding immediate lift of the indefinite ban.

A good number of members of parliament, religious leaders and individual citizens, have expressed disgust at the government action. Their voices have been read in independent print media and heard on local and international radio and TV stations.

The voices are not without cause. To many of its readers, MwanaHALISI has been a fountain of information, education and knowledge. They are now missing the same.
Your voice matters. Join us in the fight for our right to communicate and the people’s right to know.

Ends.

Ndimara Tegambwage
Information and Media Consultant
P.O. Box 71775, Dar es Salaam
Tel: 255 (0)713614872
e-mail: ndimara@yahoo.com

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