Newspaper ban is counterproductive
Posted Tuesday, October 1 2013 at 01:00
The Tanzanian government has banned Mwananchi - Daily Monitor’s sister newspaper - from production for three weeks. The Friday action, that also affected Mtanzania newspaper (banned for three months), follows accusation from government that the papers published material that had ‘incitement and peace-disruptive’ content.
For Mwananchi, one of the trouble stories was about a new government salary structure, which was based on a ‘confidential’ government document. The second article ran under the headline, ‘Muslims pray under heavy security presence’. According to the Tanzanian government, the story, which was accompanied by a photo of a ‘fierce-looking dog’, created an impression that the police had deployed dogs in places of worship.
This action, which came just a day to the International Right to Know Day, celebrated on September 28, portrays the shaky position the media, especially in Africa, continue to suffer under different governments.
The need for responsible media notwithstanding, banning a newspaper from production, does not undo the purported wrong committed, but disrupts the provision of information role of the media, economic influences that the papers make to the country, but also raises questions about government’s dealings.
It is not in doubt that a free press is an ingredient to and indicator of good governance and democracy. Sadly though, most governments still thrive on the culture of secrecy in disregard to existing laws on Access to Information and international commitments to free press.
In Uganda, threats by government against media houses, closures and inhibiting laws, have continued to threaten the media’s watchdog role, despite the laudable number of media outlets.
It is therefore important that governments, through their information ministries and departments, remind themselves about the importance of free media and use the same to advance their programmes by keeping the public informed about the goings-on in the country.
A government that has a phobia for the media, and one that uses every opportunity to take a swipe at media outlets, risks raising eyebrows about its actions.
Therefore, instead of closing media houses and issuing threats, governments should, at all times, show that it has nothing to hide. That way, the media, which should be driven by a societal responsibility, will do its work without unnecessary roadblocks.