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Press attacks, repression foster self-censorship in Tanzania

Written By mzee wa matukiodaima habari bila uoga on Monday, August 5, 2013 | 11:42 PM

A rise in anti-press attacks set against a backdrop of repressive laws, and the long-term censorship of one critical publication is sowing fear and self-censorship among journalists in Tanzania, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a new report released today.

 Despite Tanzania's reputation for transparency and democracy, its citizens are being denied vital information.

"The recent increase in journalist attacks, coupled with a volley of anti-press laws, is making reporters increasingly fearful for their safety," said Tom Rhodes, CPJ's East Africa consultant and author of the report. "And self-censorship means public discontent is going unrecorded." 

The report, called "The Invisible Plight of the Tanzanian Press," cites a spike in such attacks and threats over the past year
-CPJ has documented 10 in the past 11 months-including the killing of a veteran cameraman by a policeman while covering an opposition rally. No officer has yet been held accountable for the death.

The report also calls into
question the Tanzanian government's international image as committed to transparency and democracy, highlighting that at least 17 repressive media-related statutes remain in place.

 Under these laws, one critical publication, MwanaHalisi, has been suspended indefinitely, a step that many journalists see as a message being sent to the entire press corps.

The government has pledged to reform media laws and has signed on to the Open Government Partnership Initiative, a multilateral effort to promote transparency. Yet after years of discussion, it has produced no legislation to actually adopt an access-to-information law or to reform the numerous existing restrictive statutes.

As one of the report's key recommendations, CPJ stresses that the government should consult with media outlets and journalists to draft and adopt an access-to-information law that ensures citizens have wide access to public documents.

 It should repeal all statutes and laws that restrict press freedom and lift bans and suspensions of media outlets. Thorough investigations into attacks on journalists must also be pursued, so that those culpable can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"The government of Tanzania's crackdown on freedom of the press and expression is a clear sign that it feels threatened ahead of the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections," Rhodes said. "But in order to live up to international standards of transparency and democracy, the government must allow journalists to report on what is going on in the country without fear of repercussion."
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CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.
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