3 May 2011

Are we free? Celebrating World Press Freedom Day

The following cartoon and editorial column was published in our Kwanza Jamii Njombe newspaper earlier this week. The original Swahili can be found below the English translation.

Possible effects of limited press freedom - click to enlarge


Are we free?
EDITORIAL



May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. It’s a day to celebrate the contribution of the media to society and to development. And it’s a day for public education on both the importance of press freedom and the threats it faces.

Let’s start with the contribution of the media to society. Thomas Jefferson, way back in the eighteenth century, said he would prefer to have newspapers without government than government without newspaper. Barack Obama recently gave his support to the idea. Their thinking is that any government that isn’t watched, scrutinised and investigated, will start to forget the public interest. And so, without a free media with the strength to uncover and speak to the truth about government, even the American government would lose direction.
Coming back to Tanzania, the contribution of the media to society is no different. It’s impossible for any single citizen to follow everything government does, so we need the media to watch and report on the government. In recent years, major corruption scandals have started to emerge. Without a strong media, the scandals of Richmond/Dowans, EPA, the Bank of Tanzania, etc. would not have been uncovered. Without a strong media, grand corruption would continue and spread fast.
This doesn’t mean the media has uncovered every case of corruption in Tanzania, but without a strong media, the problem would be even bigger than it is now.
Media is not just about catching and preventing corruption – government has many, many responsibilities, particularly in a developing country like Tanzania. Government is responsible to ensure schools get the money they need to provide a good education to our children. Government is responsible to build and maintain the roads we need to get our crops to market. Government is responsible for protecting us against crime through the police and courts. And it has many more responsibilities as well as these few.
Who can check that government is carrying out these responsibilities properly? Who has the time to follow up on every aspect of their local council’s work? Nobody can do that.
But the media can. A journalist can follow up on many of these things, to check whether money is reaching schools, the state of roads, etc.
If you ask a builder to build you a house and don’t supervise their work carefully, you will find that cement and bricks go missing. If you don’t keep an eye on your children, they’ll hurt themselves or break something. Just the same, if nobody’s watching what government does, government can get away with a lot.
However, if the media doesn’t have the freedom to investigate and publish, its contribution is massively reduced. This is why World Press Freedom Day exists – to protect press freedoms.
Here in Tanzania, the constitution protects press freedoms – “every person has the right to look for, to receive and to give information” (Article 18). But that freedom is restricted by several other laws, including the 1976 Newspapers Act, which gives the Minister of Information the power to shut down any newspaper. This has the negative effect that every newspaper has to be very careful when investigating or criticising government. Reporters and editors censor themselves as a result.
In the past few years, government has used its power to close newspapers, has threatened others, and even the freedom of the national broadcaster (TBC) has been undermined. These moves are all very worrying for Tanzania’s development.
Finally, let’s come back to Njombe, where media houses are few and all in their infancy. Since we launched this paper last year, our freedom to collect and publish news has been undermined several times. We are continuing, and will continue to investigate and publish the truth as our contribution to the development of Njombe. But let us all be aware of the importance of press freedom. 




Je, Tuko Huru?
TAHARIRI


Tarehe 3 Mei ni Siku ya Kimataifa ya Uhuru wa Vyombo Vya Habari. Ni siku ya kusherekea mchango wa vyombo vya habari katika jamii na katika kuleta maendeleo. Pia, ni siku ya kuelimisha jamii juu ya umuhimu wa uhuru wa vyombo vya habari na kuhusu vikwazo vinavyopunguza uhuru wa vyombo vya habari. 
Tuanze na mchango wa vyombo vya habari katika jamii. Thomas Jefferson, aliyekuwa Rais wa Marekani miaki mingi iliyopita, alisema ni bora kuwa na vyombo vya habari bila serikali kuliko kuwa na serikali bila vyombo vya habari. Hata Rais Obama amemuunga mkono. Maana yake ilikuwa kwamba kazi za serikali zisipoangaliwa, kuchambuliwa na kuchunguzwa, serikali yoyote ile itaanza kusahau maslahi ya jamii. Hivyo, bila kuwa na vyombo vya habari vyenye nguvu ya kuchunguza na kusema ukweli kuhusu kazi za serikali, hata Serikali ya Marekani inaweza kupoteza dira kabisa.
Sasa turudi Tanzania, ambapo mchango wa vyombo vya habari katika jamii si tofauti sana. Ni vigumu sana kwa kila mwananchi kufuatilia kazi zote za serikali, hivyo wawakilishi wanahitajika kuchambua kazi za serikali na kutoa taarifa kwa jamii nzima – vyombo vya habari. Miaka hii janga la ufisadi imeanza kujitokeza kwa nguvu hapa Tanzania, na bila kuwa na vyombo vya habari vyenye nguvu kashfa za Richmond/Dowans, EPA, BOT, nk. zote zisingejitokeza. Bila vyombo vya habari vyenye nguvu, ufisadi ungeendelea na kuongezeka kwa kasi.
Hatumaanishi kwamba vyombo vya habari vimeibua ufisadi wote unaotokea hapa nchini, lakini bila vyombo vya habari vyenye nguvu, kiwango cha ufisadi kingekuwa kikubwa zaidi kuliko kilivyo kwa sasa.
Si kubana wafisadi tu – serikali inamajukumu mengi, hasa katika nchi zinazoendelea kama Tanzania. Serikali ina wajibu kuhakikisha shule zinapata fedha za kutosha ili kutoa elimu yenye manufaa kwa watoto wetu. Serikali ina wajibu kutengeneza barabara zinazotumika kupeleka mazao ya kilimo hadi sokoni. Serikali ina wajibu kutulinda sisi wananchi dhidi ya wezi na vibaka kwa kupitia polisi na mahakama zetu. Na majukumu yake ni mengi zaidi ya mifano michache hiyo.
Ni nani atakayeweza kuhakikisha kuwa serikali inatekeleza kazi zake ipasavyo? Nani ana muda kufuatilia kila jambo la halmashauri? Hakuna mwananchi mwenye uwezo huu.
Lakini vyombo vya habari vina uwezo huu. Mwandishi wa habari anaweza kuchunguza mambo kama hayo, kuangalia kama fedha zinafika mashuleni, hali ya barabara ikoje, nk.
Ukimwajiri fundi akujengee nyumba, usipomwangalia kwa umakini, simenti na matofali yatapotea kwa kasi. Usipomwangalia mtoto atafanya utundu wake na kuumia au kuvunja vitu nyumbani. Vilevile, kama hakuna vyombo vya habari vinavyoangalia serikali, mabaya mengi yaweza kutokea.
Lakini, kama vyombo vya habari havina uhuru wa kuchunguza mambo na kutoa taarifa kwa jamii, mchango wao unapungua sana. Hii ndiyo sababu ya kuanzishwa kwa Siku ya Kimataifa ya Uhuru wa Vyombo vya Habari – kulinda uhuru huu.
Hapa Tanzania, katiba ya nchi inalinda uhuru wa vyombo vya habari – “kila mtu anayo haki ya kutafuta, kupewa na kutoa habari” (Ibara 18). Lakini uhuru huu umebanwa katika baadhi ya sheria, kwa mfano Sheria ya Magazeti ya Habari (1976), ambayo inampa Waziri wa Habari mamlaka ya kufungia gazeti lolote. Madhara ya mamlaka haya ni kwamba kila chombo cha habari kinalazimishwa kuwa makini sana pale ambapo kinachunguza kazi ya serikali. Wandishi wengine wanajifungia midomo yao.
Hivi karibuni serikali imechukua hatua za kufunga magazeti, kutishia magazeti mengine, na hata kupunguza uhuru katika Shirika la Utangazaji Tanzania (TBC). Hatua zote hizi ni hatari kwa maendeleo ya Tanzania.
Mwisho, turudi hapa Njombe, ambapo vyombo vya habari ni vichache na vichanga. Tangu kuanzishwa kwa gazeti hili mwaka jana, uhuru wetu wa kutafuta na kupasha habari umeshapata changamoto kahdaa. Tunaendelea, na tutaendelea kuchunguza na kusema ukweli ili kuchangia maendeleo ya Njombe. Lakini wote tukumbuke umuhimu wa uhuru wa vyombo vya habari.