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Posts Tagged ‘Media Council of Tanzania

What’s the story behind the Kulikoni suspension?

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The Tanzanian government has been the subject of intense criticism from international press associations this week following its decision to suspend the Kiswahili weekly newspaper, Kulikoni. Last week, the Information, Culture and Sports Minister, Mr. George Mkuchika announced at a press conference that the decision to suspend the paper for 90 days was taken after it published a story that he claims put the national security of the country at risk. From The Citizen

Mr Mkuchika said Kulikoni, which is owned by Media Solutions…violated the National Security law by publishing a story on the army…with a headline: “Mdudu wa wizi wa mitihani sasa aingia jeshini,” meaning, exam cheating bug enters the army. 

“The article embarrassed our army, that’s why the army complained and when the registrar asked the editor to substantiate, he gave baseless explainations,” said Mr Mkuchika. 

“The editor was arrogant such that he told the army to form a probe committee, whose findings would be published entirely in his paper,” he added.

“The law prohibits anyone, who is not an army officer, to comment anything on the army,” he said.

The Ethical Journalism Initiative, a Brussels-based campaign launched by the International Federation of Journalists to ‘support and strengthen’ the media across the globe, called the decision ‘draconian’ while the Committee to Protect Journalists demanded that the suspension be lifted immediately. The CPJ pointed out that such disputes are the purview of the Media Council of Tanzania rather than the State: 

“The information minister should not be able to censor a publication at will,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the minister to lift the ban immediately and to allow the Media Council to reach its own decision on the matter.”

In responding to the CPJ’s condemnations:

Presidential spokesman Salva Rweyemamu [said] that the minister had decided the newspaper had breached the security laws of the country. He suspended the newspaper under the 1976 Newspapers Act. The minister can make direct decisions for suspension without consulting the independent media monitoring body, the Media Council, the spokesman added.

The CPJ, however, were unconvinced and suggested that the decision was political and had nothing to do with national security:

According to local journalists, the decision was politicized because of upcoming election nominations [in October]. The paper is critical of the government and frequently investigates corruption issues.

This view was re-inforced by Mr. Reginald Mengi, the chairman of IPP Media and publisher of Kulikoni, who told Tanzania Daima (Swahili needed) that he was ‘shocked’ by the government’s decision. He went on:

Sijawahi kuona serikali inayogombana na vyombo vya habari hasa katika mwaka wa uchaguzi. Ni jambo la kusikitisha sana. Huku ni kuzusha mtafaruku na kuruhusu ufisadi uendelee. It’s very sad! [I have never seen a government pick a fight with the press during an election year. It’s a sad state of affairs. This is designed to cause conflict and allow corruption to continue. It’s very sad!]

If the government was indeed using the incident to send a message to the private sector media that negative coverage in this election year will not be tolerated, it would be odd that they would do so in this manner. It should be remembered that Mr. Mengi and his media outlets have aggressively gone after senior figures in government and the ruling party in the past – from his run-ins with the Home Affairs Minister, Lawrence Masha, to his spat with the Igunga Member of Parliament, Rostam Aziz- without so much as a pat on the wrist. So the question then becomes, why now? What has changed in the political calculus that the most media-conscious administration in the history of this country would decide to go after the big media baron in an election year? There is more to this story than meets the eye.