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Tanzanian Government gags press freedom event on international journalists' day

May-3-World-Press-Freedom-Day-Africa-EN_20191205-212822_1 From World Press Freedom Day

The following post is by Aidan Eyakuze, a 2006 Tutu Fellow and the Executive Director of Twaweza, and it describes how the Tanzanian government silenced an event on press freedoms in East Africa on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists ~ AFLI

Twaweza in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda joined the media community to call for an end to the intimidation, violence and murder of journalists on November 2, which is the day the world marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. On November 1, 2019 at 10.00am, a regional press conference was planned to share these data and insights.

At the news conference to mark the day, Twaweza wanted to highlight citizens’ attitudes about the role and importance of the media in society based on previously-published public opinion poll data collected between 2014 and 2017 by Afrobarometer and by Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi initiative.  However, starting at 7.38am, Twaweza’s leadership in Tanzania came under intense overt and covert pressure from the state to cancel the event, ostensibly in the interest of public safety. We did so at 10.00am.

The final decision was mine. I am persuaded that to have tested the government’s resolve on this matter would have been an act of dangerous and irresponsible grandstanding on my part.

I am persuaded that to have tested the government’s resolve on this matter would have been an act of dangerous and irresponsible grandstanding on my part.

However, I am also equally convinced that the data Twaweza wanted to share do not threaten public safety in any way. They have all been in the public domain since at least 2017. Here are three insights from some of the data that are worthy of some review and reflection:

First, preference for media freedoms increased in Kenya and Uganda, but declined in Tanzania. Afrobarometer finds that across East Africa, more citizens generally support media freedom than government control of media, although this has fluctuated. In 2017, 85% of Kenyans (up from 55% in 2014) supported the statement that the media should be able to publish any views and ideas without government control. In Uganda, 59% of citizens were similarly in favour, up slightly from 54% in 2014.

Tanzania bucked this trend. In 2017, a majority 58% of Tanzanians agreed that government should be able to stop the media from publishing things they consider harmful to society. This is a notable increase of 13 percentage points since 2014.

Second, the number of East Africans who feel free to express themselves went from being the majority in 2014 to the minority in 2017. In Kenya 45% felt free to say what they think in 2017 compared to 55% in 2014; in Tanzania the proportion fell from 71% to 46% and Uganda experienced the biggest decline from 66% to 40% of citizens feeling free to express themselves.

Third, East Africans largely trust the media, but the feeling is by no means universal. On average, 6 out of 10 East Africans think that the media rarely or never abuse their freedom by knowingly publishing untrue information.

On August 13, 2018, Tanzanite newspaper published a story claiming that I am a card carrying member of a political party. The story is not true.

These data raise a number of searching questions. Is public support for media freedom in permanent retreat? Are citizens increasingly persuaded by an official narrative that is hostile to independent journalism? Afrobarometer's recent 34-country survey finds that media freedom is on the defensive noting that "popular support for media freedom – a majority view just three years ago – is now in the minority, exceeded by those who would grant governments the censor’s pencil."

Will citizen support for the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly more broadly also decline? Again this Afrobarometer analysis “reveal a decline in popular demand for freedom, in particular the right to associate freely...[and] considerable willingness among citizens to accept government imposition of restrictions on individual freedoms in the name of protecting public security.” Given these trends, it is worth pondering whether most Tanzanians might have supported the pressure to cancel Twaweza's press conference.

Given these trends, it is worth pondering whether most Tanzanians might have supported the pressure to cancel Twaweza's press conference.

How should those of us who are keen on open, inclusive and democratic societies respond to these important challenges?

One way is to protect our journalists - the courageous chroniclers of our collective experience. Journalists occupy a special place in East Africa’s fledgling democracies. They expose corruption and wrong-doing, give voice to the voiceless and inform our public discourse. In fulfilling their powerful social role, they are exposed to unique risks and dangers. But just as front line health workers are given preferential access to immunisation and medicine in support of the work they do, journalists deserve special protection against the unique professional dangers they face in the service of truth.

Let us mark November 2, 2019 by remembering those journalists who have died, are missing or have been injured while working on the frontlines of the search for information, insight and truth. Let us honour the sacrifices they have made in the pursuit of a more just and prosperous East Africa. Let us make sure that their death, disappearances, detention or disfigurement has not been in vain.


You can read the full post, as originally submitted by Aidan on Twaweza's LinkedIn page.

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