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Tanzania: Relief as MPs reject tougher penalties for media offences

Article 19,13 November 2013

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision by Tanzania's National Assembly to reject amendments to the 1976 Newspaper Act (Cap 229).The amendments would have increased fines for specific media offences and undermined efforts towards positive freedom of expression reforms in the country.

On 8 November 2013, Tanzanian MPs rejected proposed amendments to the Newspaper Act of 1976. The amendments would have increased fines for the offences “publication of false news” and “incitement to violence” from 150,000 shillings (US$93) to 5,000,000 shillings (US$3,118).

“Eastern Africa is experiencing an increase in attacks against freedom of expression. The Newspaper Act is terrible as it is, and these amendments show just how far the government is willing to go to stifle freedom of expression. While the rejection of the amendments is positive, Tanzanian MPs should remain vigilant” said Maina Henry, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

ARTICLE 19 has long been concerned that the Newspaper Act provides the government with broad powers to muzzle the press. This includes the Ministry of Information’s power to suspend any publication. Only last month, the privately-owned Mwananchi and MTanzania newspapers were suspended for 14 and 90 days respectively for allegedly publishing seditious articles. 14 months earlier, the Newspaper Act had also been used to permanently ban the Mwanahalisi newspaper.

In rejecting the amendments, MPs demanded that the government should instead move to table two long overdue bills, the Media Services Bill and the Right to Information Bill. These bills seek to address concerns about the right to freedom of expression and information in Tanzania through comprehensive reforms, rather than through piecemeal amendments to existing legislation.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the government to swiftly table the Media Services Bill and Right to Information Bill. Broad consultations should be held with all stakeholders throughout the legislative process to ensure that each bill complies with international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.

This press release was originally posted at http://www.article19.org/

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