Statement by THRDC
On the 3 rd of May every year, nations worldwide mark World Press
Freedom Day. This is a special opportunity to raise awareness on the importance
of press freedom and to remind governments around the world, their duty to
respect and uphold the right to free expression and the right to information deeply
embedded in the Regional and International Treaties. The theme for this year’s commemoration
is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”.
Internationally, the Press Freedom hinges on Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states; “Everyone has the right to
freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers”. These freedoms are also
protected under Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) and also other provisions of the Regional Human Rights
Mechanisms including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
While freedom of the Press is on paper guaranteed at regional, national
and international levels, the situation on the ground often proves otherwise.
The constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, for instance,
expressly states in Article 18, every person has the right to freedom of
opinion and expression of his ideas. The Constitution further states every
person has the right to seek and disseminate information regardless of the
Although a free Press is considered an important pillar for democracy,
journalists worldwide still face barriers that impede their work. In Tanzania,
the government has over the years enacted numerous draconian laws that make it increasingly
hard for journalists to freely operate without offending authorities.
These laws, including the Media Services Act of 2016, the Cybercrime Act of 2015, and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations (EPOCA) – 2017 not only infringe upon basic rights to information as spelled out in the constitution, but also instill fear among journalists.
For example, the Media Services Act, gives the minister responsible for
information sweeping powers and the whim to suspend newspapers if he/she is of
the opinion that they’ve contravened the law. These legal hurdles are an
affront to Press Freedom and blatantly violate basic rights of journalists.
In its 2019 Situation of Human Rights Defenders Report (2019) the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD) recorded 36 incidents of violations against journalists. The report highlights an increase of such rights violation incidents from 26 recorded in 2018.
With reference to this years’ theme of the World Press Freedom Day,
responsible authorities must effectively address these challenges. Improvement
of the situation will encourage journalism without fear or favour.
As the world commemorate the International Press Freedom Day on Sunday,
3rd of May 2020, it is important
to remind ourselves, about the looming danger posed by coronavirus pandemic
(COVID -19), which took the entire world by surprise.
Ever since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the highly
contagious disease a pandemic on 11th March 2020, there has been coordinated
response among nations to deter the deadly disease. Some of immediate measures
taken by states include travel ban, halting public engagements and observing
Moreover, in an attempt to curb the disease, the states have used numerous
laws to prevent circulation of fake news and information through online
platforms and traditional media. These measures, in retrospect negatively
affected citizen’s right to free expression as well as freedom of the Press.
As it is everywhere in the world Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), including
Journalists in Tanzania face many challenges, in the course of fulfilling their
duties due to COVID 19 pandemic. For example, most journalists are not well
informed and often not fully equipped when gathering news in an environment
where social distancing is highly encouraged.
Reports suggest, there are four major alarming civic space trends in
relation to the measures taken against COVID – 19 Pandemic in the World such
as: unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship;
detentions of activists for disseminating critical information; crackdowns on
human rights defenders and media outlets; as well as violations of the right to
As the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic intensifies, the THRDC has recorded numerous incidents of violations against freedoms of opinion and expression. Some of these incidents include the arrest of six people including the arrest of 4 journalists who were reporting and giving their candid opinion about the pandemic, while 4 media outlets were stringently finned.
In line with WHO directives on principles of transparency, and accountability,
these rights must be protected as we fight Covid-19. In addition to that, when
responding to the concerns of the public the government is required to act in
an effective, satisfactory, timely and transparent manner.
This will ensure that, the stakeholders and the general public have
clear understanding of their specific roles. THRDC recommends the following:
i. To the government
The Government should continue to take appropriate steps to improve working environment for journalists at the same time guarantee media freedom.
It is important that the government makes relevant amendments to the Media Services Act, Access to Information Act, Cyber Crimes Act and the Online Content Regulations (EPOCA) in accordance with stakeholder’s recommendations and present them in the parliament, so that the Media fraternity to be properly regulated as per agreed international standards.
The Government should observe the highest degree of transparency, by
frequently giving public information about the pandemic. Such a move will
greatly discourage individuals who post false information in the social media. We
advise the Government to do away with the current developing trend of arresting
journalists and other individuals who give their opinion and challenge the way
COVID-19 is being managed in Tanzania. It should be noted that, this is part of
their duty in accordance with the principle of accountability currently being
emphasized by the United Nations.
We advise the government to work on those constructive criticisms and fair opinion from active citizens and use them in the fight against COVID 19.
ii. To the media
As we take necessary precautions against COVID 19, the THRDC is calling upon journalists to take precaution exercise great care when reporting. Tanzania media houses should come up with a coherent news reporting strategy, while strictly observing proper self-regulation.
Editors and journalists must strictly adhere to professional ethics when reporting news about Covid -19.
iii. To the public
The public should strictly observe all the directives given by medical professionals and the government to stop further spread of the disease. The public should stop sharing fake information. They should instead responsibly use online media to mobilize use of best preventive mechanisms in accordance with the laws governing information sharing.
Issued on 3rd May, 2020
Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition