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Tanzania’s Parliament Rejects Media Censorship Bill

Tanzania’s Media Confronts Government (Pic. courtesy RSF)

The media and human rights activists expressed relief that the National Assembly of Tanzania had rejected a bill on November 8 that would have increased fines for offences such as “publishing false news” and “incitement to violence.” The bill came before Tanzania’s parliament less than month after a series of publications were closed by the Tanzanian government that resulted in irate journalists refusing to give coverage to two government officers that personified the censorship.

Tanzania‘s 1976 Newspaper Act is widely condemned by media freedom advocates for sweeping powers. The UK-based Article 19 said that fines for the two offences under the amendment would have increased fines from 150,000 shillings (US$93) which they are under the present Act, to 5,000,000 shillings (US$3118).
“Eastern Africa is experiencing an increase in attacks against freedom of expression. The Newspaper Act is terrible as it is, and these amendments show just how far the government is willing to go to stifle freedom of expression. While the rejection of the amendments is positive, Tanzanian MPs should remain vigilant,” said Maina Henry, Article 19’s Eastern Africa Director.
Article 19 also urged the government to table the Media Services Bill and the Right to Information Bill. “Broad consultations should be held with all stakeholders throughout the legislative process to ensure that each bill complies with international standards on freedom of expression and access to information,” Article 19 said.
In October, Tanzanian journalists protested the closure of three newspapers. The three publications banned were Mwananchi, Mtanzania and Mwanahalisi. Mwanahalisi has been banned from July 2012 and Mwananchi, Mtanzania were banned on September 27, for 14 and 90 days respectively. According to a press release by the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), “the two newspapers were accused of publishing provocative and seditious stories intended to incite the public against the government.”
Following this important stakeholders in Tanzania’s private media decided to boycott coverage of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Minister Fenella Mukangara and Director of Information Services Assah Mwambene from October 8, after they refused to lift a ban on the publications suspended for “publishing articles inciting hostility (…) and thereby endangering peace and social cohesion.”
Please click herefor more on press freedom in Tanzania.

Mexico Targets Journalists Covering Protests

Police attack protestors in Mexico (Pic. courtesy  Article 19)

Writing on October 23, as Mexico came under the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the New York-based human rights watchdog Freedom House referred to, “[t]he continued violence against journalists in Mexico and ongoing threats to freedom of expression posed by organized crime, widespread insecurity, and endemic corruption and impunity. In framing their questions and recommendations, UNHRC member states should prioritize concerns about freedom of expression, as violence against journalists and human rights defenders, undermines all Mexicans’ fundamental rights.”
This trend is not new. A recent example of media repression is when a group of masked men attacked two radio stations, La Estrella Maya que Habla and La FM Maya, in Quintana Roo, southwest Mexico on October 28 that injured journalists and a caretaker. This was not the first time La Estrella Maya que Habla was attacked.
On October 2, 15 journalists were attacked by police in Mexico City while they were covering protests marking the 45th anniversary of a student massacre in 1968. Many journalists were injured and others had their equipment damaged by marauding law enforcement officers.
“We have previously noted that that abuses directed at journalists covering demonstrations will continue unless they are punished. The trivialization of violence against journalists undermines media coverage of events of this nature. We point out that, without journalists, the demonstrators’ message would not be heard by the public,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF)
The attack on individual journalists and institutions and demonstrating protestors are different strategies carried out by the Mexican government to stifle dissent, especially to ensure that the unpopularity of the government does not achieve wide publicity. RSF says 88 journalist have been killed in the country in the past 10 years and 17 have disappeared.
In view of this, Article 19 launched an initiative to monitor the media to prevent Mexican authorities targeting journalists and others who document protests against the government. The report, which is in Spanish, looks at 46 cases where protestors were attacked by the police.

“In total, 46 cases were documented by Article 19: 30 men, 11 women and 5 people who have not disclosed their gender for security reasons. Thirty-two cases were direct attacks committed by the police, eight were violations committed by unknown groups, three were committed by organised groups which might have been acting with the support and consent of security agents, and three incidents involved attackers with their faces covered,” says a post on Article 19’s website.

Murder Of French Journalists Worsens Media Freedom In Mali

Bodies of the two journalists arrive in France (Pic courtesy AFP)

The abduction and murder of two French journalists in Mali last week demonstrates the endangered existence of media freedom – as well as other liberties – in a country where the Malian government, the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA supported by French troops, and Taurag rebels including the group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) maintain security.

The bodies of Ghislaine Dupont (57) a veteran reporter who had covered many conflicts in Africa in her 25-year career with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Claude Verlon (55), a sound engineer with many years experience as a technician in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, were found outside a vehicle into which they had been bundled when they were abducted near the town of Kidal on November 2. They had just completed an interview of Ambery Ag Rissa, a leader of the MNLA for RFI. 
“The summary execution of these two RFI journalists is vile and unspeakable,” Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) secretary-general, Christophe Deloire said. “We feel both outrage and disgust that journalists who had the courage to cover an area such as the Kidal region were shot in cold blood after interviewing someone…”
The killings come in the run up towards national elections scheduled for November 24. In January, the French military intervened in support of the Malian government that was overwhelmed facing an uprising of the rebel Taurag which had established an autonomous region, Azawad. After pushing out the rebels a peace treaty was signed in June and French troops and a UN peacekeeping force stationed to stabilise the region. The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the killings.
“The United Nations should support the investigations in line with its mandate to protect civilians and its new plan for the safety and protection of journalists,” said Mohamed Keita, who coordinates advocacy for Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius “blamed the murder on Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.”
The UK-based Article 19 said, “Mahamane Baby, spokesman for the Malian government promised that ‘some measures will be taken, including the opening of a judicial investigation in Mali.'”
RFI reported that French authorities were in Mali and investigations into the incident had commenced Four persons had been arrested. RFI also mentions contradictions between statements from the French military chief in the area and accounts from other sources.
While this tragic incident is the latest assault on media freedom in Mali that ranks 99th of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index, there has long been a litany of complaints about restriction facing the independent media. 
RSFwhile acknowledging fighting between Islamists and Malian government troops as tensions rise before elections said, “The presence of the large international force that was deployed in northern Mali could have guaranteed better access to information for journalists, but in practice the media were prevented from covering events. Security was used as a pretext for keeping reporters at distance, in what was a clear violation of freedom of information,” RSF said.
It blamed the French authorities in Mali for some of the restrictions on freedom of information.
More unfortunate, elections do not appear as a way whereby democracy or human rights will be restored in Mali soon. 

British, French Media Watchdogs Blow Whistle on US

US Army private, Bradley Manning was convicted on July 30 on multiple counts for leaking material related to US national security but acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy. A few days prior to the verdict, two European organisations that monitor freedom of speech, expressed misgivings about the protection afforded by the US to whistleblowers like Manning and Edward Snowden. Snowden is accused of exposing details of US projects to collect telephone and electronic communication data.
“We are concerned that the US Government is not only unwilling to protect whistleblowers who reveal serious wrongdoings in the public interest, but instead actually pursues them. As a result, its commitment to openness, freedom of information and democratic governance is open to question,” said the UK-based ARTICLE 19 in a statement published July 27.
“ARTICLE 19 deeply regrets the US Government’s knee jerk reaction to such disclosures, consisting in bringing criminal charges against the alleged whistleblowers, instead of properly assessing the overall public interest of the disclosed information or addressing the wrongdoings they may have exposed.”
Meanwhile, on July 29, Reporters without Borders (RSF) expressed “concern” about the recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that New York Times journalist James Risen testify at the trial of a CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling who is accused of leaking unauthorised information. Risen used the information in his book ‘State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,’ published in 2006.
“Leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalism,” said RSF, “given that nearly all information related to national security is considered ‘secret’ and that the DOJ has argued in the past that reporter’s privilege does not exist at all for national security reporters, it is safe to say that this crackdown against whistleblowers is designed to restrict all but officially approved versions of events and information. These developments highlight the need for a comprehensive, federal shield law in the U.S.”
RSF however expressed guarded approval of the Department of Justice guidelines issued in mid-July following the controversy caused by the US Government seizing phone records of the Associated Press and issuing a warrant on Fox News’ James Rosen.