BANGOR, Maine — Doing their jobs without fear of government interference is a goal journalists in Tanzania hope soon to attain, according to a group of media professionals from the African country.
Nine representatives of media outlets and related organizations from Tanzania toured the Bangor Daily News facilities in Bangor and Hampden on Wednesday. The group of five men and four women monitored news meetings and interacted with BDN editors and staff members. The group is taking part in a four-week educational program directed by University of Maine associate professor of journalism Paul Grosswiler and assistant professor Mike Socolow.
After learning from BDN staffers during a question-and-answer session that the First Amendment prevents government interference with the press in America, the visitors from Tanzania said they do not work in such an environment.
“Laws enacted during our country’s colonial era are still on the books and these laws infringe on freedom of the press,” said Simon S. Berege, a journalism instructor at Tumaini University in Iringa, referring to British rule of what is now Tanzania before 1961.
Even after the country gained independence from Great Britain, the Tanzanian government sought to keep control of the media. A law still permits the government to ban a newspaper in the name of national security and the penal code calls for imprisonment of journalists who refuse to disclose sources in court, according to the visiting media members.
In addition, a law mandates that anyone starting a newspaper must register it with the government. Berege said requests to register a paper can be denied by lower-level government officials and the appeals process is limited.
“You can appeal to a [government] minister, but the minister’s decision is final,” Berege said, noting that in many cases government officials either own or run media outlets.
Tanzania, with a population of 40 million, has 10 daily newspapers, about 35 weekly papers and periodicals, three television stations and 25 radio stations, according to the Web site pressreference.com.
Khalfan Said, a photographer with The Guardian Newspaper in Dar es Salaam, said he was once arrested for doing his job.
“I was covering an election in Zanzibar in 2000 and I took a photograph of a soldier. So I was arrested briefly,” he said, noting his camera with the image was later returned to him.
Levina Kato, a reporter for The Citizen newspaper in Dar es Salaam, said the laws have a chilling effect on journalism.
“Some stories about problems in our country are not allowed to be done because they are related to the security of the nation,” she said.
All of the journalists said the administration of President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is “friendly” to the press and that government interference is rarer now than in the past. But an election is coming up next year, and a new president could mean a crackdown on media freedom.
“There are bills [being considered] to change these laws. We hope that in one or two years they will be gone forever,” Berege said.
The journalism education program involving the Tanzanians and UMaine is funded by a grant through the U.S. Agency for International Development, a federal program that provides humanitarian assistance worldwide.