Mawio ban: Yes, we are free but not that free


COMMUNICATION is an important facet of human existence and the inception of media outlets revolutionised the sending and receiving of messages.

However, though people and media organisations alike are free to say or publish whatever they want, in most cases, there is no freedom after speech.

And, this concept rightly applies for Tanzanian Kiswahili weekly tabloid, Mawio, as it recently faced the wrath of the law after it was banned for 24 months, for alleged defiance.

Global practice remains clear and undisputable that freedom of expression must go with obligation, hence the newspaper was supposed to act responsibly and heed to the laws of the country.

This has triggered a hullabaloo among members of the public who are currently divided over the State’s decision to impose the ban. While some have decided to play the devil’s advocate, some stand by their government’s stance arguing that the publishers of the paper were simply supposed to adhere to the order.

And, to add weight to the cynic view, the Tanzania Editors’ Forum (TEF) yesterday joined the fray, condemning the suspension. What appears to be in common among all critics to the State’s decision is that they all challenge the Minister’s powers to order suspension.

None of the cynics have come up armed with evidence, trashing the 720-day ban. Interpretively, this means the apparently anti-government publication concedes the slip-up but is only uncomfortable with ‘who ordered the temporary ban.’

The Minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, last week suspended the newspaper allegedly for linking the former presidents -- Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete with dubious mining contracts.

Dr Mwakyembe’s order came barely a day after President John Magufuli warned the media, including the ostensibly defiant publication to refrain from attacking the former heads of State.

President Magufuli distanced both leaders from the recent mineral concentrates saga, clarifying that the two teams he formed to probe the issue never implicated them.

On the same day, Minister Mwakyembe added weight to Magufuli’s directive, calling upon the media to work in accordance with the country’s laws.

The Minister’s statement on the suspension, explained that the stories published in the newspaper breached section 50 (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) that restricts reporting with negative perceptions, adding that the decision was taken under section 59 of the Media Services Act 2016.

It is therefore important to note that though any act, done either by the government or any other person, aimed at gagging media from carrying out their lawful duties deserves strong condemnation, the media on the other hand are not free from blame.

Media organisations have the obligation to respect lawful orders and the laws of the country to save their teeth. And, any media house which is worth its salt should not deliberately defy orders for political mileage and personal gains.

The President issued a lawful order and it has to be respected, period! Short of which the culprit puts himself on the firing line and when that happens, the result is obvious.

To add salt to an injury for those defending the indefensible, the Director of Information Services, MAELEZO, Dr Hassan Abbasi is on record saying the Minister was within his legal powers to suspend Mawio, asserting that section 59 of the Media Services Act (MSA) 2016 gives him those powers.

The MSA defines content as “including information in print media or electronic media images, drawings, cartoons, and any other characters, whether moving or still.” While powers of the minister are raising eyebrows among stakeholders, none have come out ‘clearly’ to defend the newspaper.

To do justice to our reasoning, it should first be commonsensical to either agree or disagree that Mawio published the ‘content which fuelled negative perception’. Then, from that end, critics are supposed to indicate sections of the law which have been breached instead of such a blind and blanket criticism.

The anti-government publication-Mawio is facing 24-month suspension just a few months after it was reinstated by the court. In January 2016, the weekly tabloid was barred from publishing under the 1976 Media Act, Government Announcement 55, for allegedly inciting violence in Zanzibar.

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