Tanzanian editors have imposed a tit-for-tat news blackout on a minister who imposed a three-month ban on a newspaper, writes Hamis Mzee.


Members of the Editor's Forum of Tanzania have decided not to report any activities of the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, Capt. George Mkuchika, for the duration of the ban he imposed on the Swahili-language MwanaHalisi newspaper.

The editors, mainly from private media, claim the ban amounts to "despising the journalism profession".

The minister banned MwanaHalisi for what he said was professional misconduct after the paper reported rumours of conflict in President Kikwete's cabinet that the minister said had cultivated misunderstandings in society and in the president's household. The story claimed that there was a plot involving the president’s son to block Kikwete from standing for another term in office.

The chairperson of the editor's forum, Sakina Datoo, said editors have agreed to give the minister a media blackout where all media houses will not report any activity conducted by Capt Mkuchika.

Datoo the editors forum will challenge the ban in court.   The editors also said they will write to Kikwete to reconsider the minister's appointment.

They will also inform international donors, and will organise a protest demonstration of members of all media houses and all journalists.

The MwanaHalisi ban was announced in a Government Gazette dated October 10. Reading the notice, Mkuchika told newsmen that the ban should serve as a warning to other newspapers.

In response to the forum, the minister said he “the noises by the forum would not make him lose sleep”.

Observers see this development as unfortunate, because hardly a week has passed since the minister received media stakeholder’s proposals on the proposed new media bill.

There was a good understanding on both sides- the minister’s and media stakeholders on the proposals. There are fears now that this latest development may dent chances of rapport between the two sides regarding the media bill.

Meanwhile, the World Association of Press Councils has also protested at the closure, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

“The WAPC adds its voice to the many in Tanzania and around the world that have condemned this oppressive act by Tanzania’s government. We urge all who value freedom of communication to stand up and be counted on this issue,” said a WAPC statement, sent to Nairobi-based journalists by the Media Council of Kenya.

It said the action is in violation of principles of a free media and basic human rights guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We urge President Kikwete to take immediate action to rescind this decision and to restore the basic right of all Tanzanians to communication without fear of government reprisal,” said WAPC.