Media blackout for Tanzania minister, director
Media owners, publishers and journalist bodies in Tanzania have agreed not to cover any news event, publish statements or pictures of the minister of information, culture and sports or that of the country's director of information.
The stakeholders agreed in a meeting in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday that no private newspaper, radio or television station will carry anything involving Minister of Information, Culture and Sports Fenella Mkangala and director of information Assah Mwambene, indefinitely.
It follows the decision by the government to ban MwanaHalisi, a weekly investigative newspaper which was banned indefinitely 15 months ago, while Mwananchi and Mtanzania was banned for three months and two weeks, 10 days ago.
The statement on Wednesday was signed by representatives from the Media Owners' Association of Tanzania, Tanzania Editors' Forum, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Tanzania Chapter, the Media Council of Tanzania, the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs, Dar es Salaam City Press Clubs and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders.
They said they were saddened by the government's decision to ignore an outcry from the public, local and international organisations to lift the ban on the newspapers, saying it was denying the public its right to be informed.
"We have also been saddened by the government silence on our plea to have the 1976 Newspapers Act amended despite being mentioned by a number of stakeholders as a roadblock to press freedom," says the statement.
The blackout comes 10 days after the government banned Mwananchi and Mtanzania for writing what it called seditious stories which threatened the country's existing peace and tranquility.
In a September notice, the government said Mwananchi published a story revealing new salary structures for public servants in July this year that quoted a document that was marked "confidential" and was not supposed to go out.
Mtanzania was banned for publishing stories with headlines like "Bloody Presidency" in the March 20 2013 edition and "A revolution is inevitable" on September 27 2013, which the government said were likely to endanger the nation's cohesion.
The ban was received with an uproar from local and international organisations, with the International Federation of Journalists saying banning a newspaper meant preventing journalists from providing news to the public.
"This is a press freedom abuse which must not be taken for granted," said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ's Africa director.
The World Association of Press Councils also joined Tanzanian, African and other international press freedom and human rights organisations in condemning the closure of the two national newspapers.
World Association of Press Councils secretary general Chris Conybeare said: "These acts are repugnant to those who espouse ideals of democracy. Without press freedom, there can be no free society."
Outgoing US ambassador to Tanzania Alfonso Lenhardt described the decision by the government to suspend the newspapers as counter to democracy, whose central tenet is freedom of the press.
The European Union condemned the government's decision and urged authorities to do whatever they could to preserve the freedom of expression and the right to information.
The EU expressed its conviction that a constructive dialogue between the government and media stakeholders would have sorted out any differences.
Sylivester Ernest is the 2013 winner of the David Astor Journalism Award. He is on attachment to the Mail & Guardian.