For the media to flourish, and the society to have free flow of accurate and verifiable information, journalists, the drivers in the passing of information are expected to be well grounded in laws and the legal aspect pertaining to the job, writes Alfred Ganzo.
A country’s media legal framework is undoubtedly one of the major factors that determine the viability of its media sector. This means, transparent and supportive media laws are needed to facilitate the development of an independent, vibrant and sustainable media sector.
It’s not enough to have a legal framework that enhances the viability of the media sector. Another factor to consider is journalists’ access to legal education. As a part of enhancing the viability of Tanzania’s media sector, journalists should have access to legal education which aims to inform them of various aspects of the legal framework that governs their working environment.
Understanding of the laws which regulate the media sector is crucial in promoting the confidence of journalists when performing their works; it helps journalists to avoid penalties imposed on law breakers in areas such as defamation, copyright, and protection of individual privacy. For instance, between 2015 and 2020 Tanzania witnessed the banning of four newspapers namely Mawio, Mwanahalisi, Raia Mwema, and Tanzania Daima due to the breach of the Media Services Act and the Newspaper Act as claimed by the authorities.
Goodluck Paul, a journalist at Azam Media, explains how lack of access to legal education affects individual journalists, media houses and the media sector in general.
“We have witnessed a number of media houses in Tanzania getting in trouble with the authorities in form of fines, temporary bans and total closure of the media house due to unprofessional conduct while at work. This is a result of a lack of legal education amongst media practitioners who are employed on a basis of talent and not professional journalism and media knowledge.”
He adds that the lack of legal knowledge is a root cause of many “defamation cases, lack of credibility and decline in public trust.”
Role of journalism schools
Journalism schools are thus expected to offer a sound foundation to future journalists through training on legal aspects they are likely to encounter in the execution of their duties once they join the practice.
In Tanzania, there are several journalism and mass communication colleges that offer legal education as part of their journalism training courses. Lusekelo Mwakalindile, a media lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam School of Journalism and Mass Communication says the training helps ‘’create an awareness of the punishments and other negative consequences of failure to obey with the legislation and therefore promotes compliance.”
However, there have been concerns that the trainings in colleges is not sufficient to equip journalists with the legal knowledge they need to ensure the viability of the media sector. The concern has been based on media law courses being offered in a short period of time, covering a small portion of media law.
“The aim is to provide media practitioners with a basic understanding of the good conduct for professional journalism and mass communication such as the need to produce news stories that observe accuracy, objectivity, fairness and impartiality and as a result promote and appropriate ethical practice and discourage bad conduct such as disseminating prohibited content such as hatred speech and create favourable relationships with media regulators and other stakeholders in the society,” Mwakalindile added.
Other important key players in ensuring access to legal education are the Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations. Dastan Kamanzi, the executive director of Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF), a Non-Governmental Organization envisioning a strong, independent, diverse and viable media sector that serves public interest in Tanzania says there is need to have improved and easy access to legal education amongst journalists.
“Journalists need more understanding and application of laws in their day to day journalism work. Legal education ensures journalists’ safety and security as they know how to work within and navigate the legal and regulatory environment,” he explains, adding that, “as a media support institution, TMF engages journalists and media houses in training and nurturing programmes by inviting Tanzanian Authorities like Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to deliver modules on compliance needs and how journalists can operate within existing legal frameworks.”
According to Mwakalindile, the media sector is considered as one of the important players in the building of a transparent and accountable society. Therefore, government authorities which regulate the media sector have a crucial role to play in enhancing the viability of the media sector, adding that the government should establish an independent media council to help improve media’s access to legal education for journalists in Tanzania.
“The government should establish an independent media council which will provide training to journalists as well as editors on legal matters, strengthen institutions which deal with the administration of human rights, especially the freedom of expression in connection with other rights like rights to privacy and right to reputation, enforce media houses to have in-service continuous media law training programmes among their reporters, and lastly, it should update its media and information policies to match with the newest local and international developments in the media field.”
It’s evident that legal education is a crucial part in achieving viability of the media houses and individual journalists in Tanzania and East Africa at large. In order to realise this dream of a viable media sector, all media stakeholders from the government, non-governmental organisations, higher learning institutions, media associations, media practitioners and journalists should work together by all means.
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