Our Media: Where we dare to talk openly

Reflection by Mujuni Baitani

Photo Credits: Jamii Forums

It’s on my routine as the day starts I must go through Social Medias and know what is going on. It always takes my 2–3 hours in the morning to digest different news from different corner of the world. From #JF tweets, I read about the police arrest of the founder of Jamii Forums concerning the authorization of private credentials of the users’ of the platform. Jamii Forums is the most engaging platform in Tanzania, which has been so helpful on matters concerning Governance, also it’s known as the, “The Home of Great Thinkers. Where we dare to Talk Openly”. Honestly, according to the political status of our country I was so anxious to know more about the story. 
I was not shocked but because I know this is not the first time the government forces have been harassing the Jamii Forums Founder for users’ credentials. In 2008 he was arrested and asked by the force to release the details of the users and he was not ready to the terms of the platform that the users details are encrypted unless by the concern of the user him or herself.

This is so interesting how our government is “eager” to know more about Jamii Forums users’. The incidence have remind me of different scenarios on the war on media in Tanzania. People may think that this is happening for the first time, NO there have been many incidents that goes along with this of Maxence Melo, the founder of Jamii Forums. As I have been reading the tweet trending with the #FreeMaxenceMelo , it has remind me of Paschal Shija, one of the biggest blow of freedom of press that has ever happened in Tanzania. The big crime which Mr Shija committed in the eyes of our law enforcing agencies was to ask the burning question that was too much for those holding supremacies of power.

“…But above all there is the garbage of leadership. The reason the country has become a big garbage dump is because we have a leadership which finds garbage good company. Our government, both national and local, is overloaded with the least able, the most unpatriotic, the least talented and the greediest possible leaders that the country could produce”

Also another interesting case of the Jounalist Adamu Mwaibabile of Songea, who had gained reputation as a serious reporter who could look at both sides of the society. He happen to write of the movement of Co-operative movement in Ruvuma that involved regional authorities and it did not please the regional bosses. The Regional Commissioner of the time took a decision in his capacity to instruct an administrative officer to write to Songea town authorities to the effect that Mr Mwaibabile should not be issued with any type of business licence. Speaking of Media harassment there are different scenarios which are so interesting.

Frankly speaking of the issue of Maxence Melo and Jamii Forums, I reflect we still lack the understanding of media as the important role in the development of the society. This particularly the case where the media is free and not controlled by the government. At same time, in a dictatorship, the media can be abused and used as a propaganda machinery of the government. It’s always dangerous when the media is no longer educative but a tool to cement oppression. Again in a dictatorship or semi-dictatorship, the media can play a vital role of a liberating force. This is where there are brave people of this profession who will be daring to write and speak the truth, at the risk of landing in custody and others to unspeakable places.

Photo credits: Udaku Specialz

It has never been as easy for media democratization in Tanzania without the price of journalist as the government has not accepted changes in media industry. Even though there are laws abiding to the freedom of conscience but still there has been challenges in enjoyment of those laws. As I mentioned before this is not the first harassment of the media. All this is because the laws applicable to the media in Tanzania gives tremendous powers to the government to control the press and the government has not hesitated to use effectively against members of the media.

Recently, the government have passed the Media Service Act, 2016, also we have the Cyber crime Act, 2015 that have been used to pin people who are trying to help the government understand their mistakes. Though it seems that the government is not yet interested to know where it is failing. Nevertheless we might think that this started in 2000’s NO this has been here ever 1970’s where we had the Newspaper Act that stumbled blocked to the freedom of expression. More interesting is that some of the article of this law have been embedded in the new Law of Media Services and also Cyber crime. The most dangerous part of this legislation is that dealing with the crime of sedition, where in the past this was under the Penal Code, Chapter 16 of the Revised Laws of Tanzania Mainland. The Seditious intention is defined as an intention “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the lawful authority of the united Republic or the Government”- (A Source book of the Criminal Law of Africa, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1966, pp 467–471) This was removed and placed in the Newspaper Act which is theoretically said to be removed and not used into new laws but practically it is. If you research enough you will discover that this article have been paraphrased; (the article says this)

Under the Act, any person who:
(a) Does or attempt to do, or make any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act with a seditious intention:
(b) Utters any word with a seditious intention;
© Prints, publishes, sell, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication;
(d) Imports any seditious publication, unless he has no reason to believe that is seditious,
Is guilty of an offence for which he can be fined and /or imprisoned for two years and up to three years in the case he repeats the offence. Section 32(4), “The police are empowered under the Act to confiscate any device used to produce seditious materials while a case is pending in court.”…. “At the same time, the courts, over and above fining or imprisoning a person convicted under the Act, may order the device used to produce seditious publication to be forfeited to the state.”

Yes, there is law and we are all obligated to trail and make them practical into our day to day activities. But amazement is how the government uses methods of suppression and prevent critics’ even peoples’ expressions. One of the biggest gap the government is not understanding is the power of media. Media can be seen as a regular entity but it can turn around things whether best nor worst, the government should stop being doubly. As one way of making things work out; the government must find the best ways of accepting criticism. Mistakes must be criticized and poisonous mistake fought whenever they crop up. What is needed is scientific analysis and convincing arguments. Criticizing shortcomings cannot be escaped but doing it in a cool way with wholehearted eagerness to educate others. It’s never good to treat comrades (journalists’ and media personnel) as enemy of the state just because they have criticized the shortcoming.

“A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune”

In our own capabilities we can change what we are seeing today, it’s never too late for change in the systems. Coming with new laws everyday so that we can pin people who are helping is not the best options. I know others might think of politics, YES if the country serves multiparty how can you prevent criticism and opinions form other party believers. I believe if the government settles and become ready to listen it’s easy to have a solution of this problem and together we can struggle to resolve different contradictions in the media industry. It’s real that the concrete development of things face contradictions which are originally non-antagonistic into antagonistic ones, while others originates from antagonistic into non-antagonistic ones. Finally, it’s our moral obligation to champion the freedom of media that is enjoyable that respects human rights and abide to the Constitution of our Country.

“An army of deer would be more formidable commanded by a lion, than an army of lions commanded by a stag”