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ZA KISWAHILI

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The National Assembly has made a landmark decision by rejecting proposed amendments to the 1976 Newspapers Act aimed at enhancing its penalties.

The Attorney General Frederick Werama had presented Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013 on Wednesday November 6, seeking to impose a shs five million fine and a five year jail term for publishing seditious information raising the fine from the present shs 15,000 fine and a three year jail sentence.

Opposing the amendments, Members of Parliament who were also supported by the Speaker, Anne Makinda, asked the government to present before the house the long promised media legislation bill.

The Speaker challenged the government on November 8, 2013 when Parliament set a committee deliberating on the various amendments of the Miscellaneous Bill, why it was delaying to present a complete bill on Right to Information and Media Services.

“We should stop teasing, the government should present the complete bill to the Parliament”, she emphasized.

She asked the government to present the bill during the next session Parliament.

Leading national newspaper on Saturday Noevember 9, 2013 were awash with banner headlines on the parliamentary rejection of the amendments to the Newspapers Act.

Peter Serukamba, MP for Kigoma Urban from the ruling party CCM was vocal on the final stage of the deliberations of the bill, asking other MPs to support him in rejecting the amendments on the Newspaper Act.

He recalled that for the last eight years, the government has been procrastinating on presenting the bill to the august assembly.

Jennister Mhagama , MP for Peramiho, also from the ruling CCM , was equally opposed to the government delay for presenting a complete bill on information legislation.

Mhagama who is also the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Commission of Community which has been deliberating with media stakeholders and pushing for the enactment of media friendly legislations said the stakeholders had even sent a delegation of MPs to India to study how the Right to Information legislations is being implemented.

She said despite that initiative there has been no progress in the endevour to enact information legislation.

The delegation of five legislators from the National Assembly and two from the Zanzibar House of Representatives was sent to India by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) September, last year.

Opposition MP from Chadema, Tundu Lissu, had dismissed the proposed amendments as baseless as there was no evidence that the penalties provided in sections 36(1) and 37(1)(b) of the Act were not effective in deterring sedition.

However, he pointed out that since the enactment 37 years ago of the Act ,no journalist or publisher of a newspaper has been arraigned. Instead of charging offenders in courts, the government has been closing newspapers and threatening journalists, Lissu said while presenting the views of the opposition on the Miscelleneous Bill.

MPs supporting the presentation of a complete media bill to Parliament were of the view the proposed bill should cover a wide spectrum to include the rights and benefits of media practitioners.

In a critical assessment of the proposed amendments to the 1976 Newspaper Act, the Coalition On the Right to Information (CORI) led by MCT dismissed them as a waste of energy, resources and time.

It asserted in its analysis prepared after the government came with the Miscellaneous Bill that it would have been more meaningful to devote efforts to the enactment of the new information and media laws instead of the proposed amendments.

It said that the government move is construed as another effort to strangle vibrant and diverse media and the peoples’ constitutional right to information.

In the analysis availed to MPs before they deliberated on Miscellaneous Bill, CORI noted that the amendments proposed in the Newspaper Act, the Penal Code, the Prevention of Terrorism Act as well as the Films and Stage Plays Act are not matters of Urgency to call for amendment under miscellaneous modality.

Parliament endorsed amendments of the other acts except the Newspaper Act.

Other members of CORI are Tanzania In formation Bureau (TCIB), the Media Institute of Sothern Africa Tanzania chapter (MISA-Tan), the Media Owners Associaton of Tanzania (MOAT), Sikika, National Organisation for Legal Assistance (nola), Legal and Human Rights Centre( LHRC), Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) and the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA).

 CORI had presented proposals on the Right to Information Bill to the government in 2007 and Media Services Bill on 2008.

However, since then the government has been promising to present bills in Parliament with no tangible results.

 

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