The Media Council of Tanzania and two civil society organisations have sued the government at the East African Court of Justice, accusing it of restricting media practice in the country.
The council and the Legal and Human Rights Centre as well as the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition say the Media Services Act, 2016 violates the EAC Treaty by restricting the type and content of news aired, thus infringing on the right to freedom of expression.
Section 7 of the Act compels private media houses to broadcast or publish news or issues of national importance as the government may direct; ensure that information issued does not undermine national security or disclose the proceedings of the Cabinet.
They also take issue with Article 13, which gives the Media Accreditation Board power to suspend or expunge journalists from the roll of accredited journalists.
The Act was passed by parliament in November 2016 and was assented to by President John Magufuli the same month.
The applicants — Donald Deya, Fulgence Masawe, Jenerali Ulimwengu and Jebra Kambore — want the EACJ to order the government to repeal or amend the Act to bring it into conformity with the principles of the EAC Treaty.
Article 6(d) of the Treaty states that partner states will adhere to: “Good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and people’s rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
Article 8(1)C requires partner states to abstain from any measures likely to jeopardise the achievement of those objectives or the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty.
The hearing of the case started on November 14.
Lawyers representing the government, Mark Mulwambo and Sylvia Matiku, said the EACJ lacks the jurisdiction to preside over the matter and want the case to be thrown out.
They argued that freedom of expression is not absolute and that the Media Services Act, 2016 is reflective of the intent and purpose of the Constitution in regard to issues of national interest.
They said the Act does not violate freedom of expression but rather states the obligations of media houses and how they should conduct themselves in exercising their rights.
The case is before Principal Judge Faustin Ntezilyayo, judges Monica Mugenyi, Fakihi Jundu, Audace Ngiye and Charles Nyachae.