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Lifting media curbs points to President's growing confidence

With President Samia Suluhu Hassan set to run for another term, she has been making friends with journalists

Journalists and media houses were repeatedly targeted in clampdowns under President John Magufuli as the government's security organisations tried to limit dissent and undermine the opposition. This left a poisoned legacy for Samia Suluhu Hassan when she took over the presidency after Magufuli's death was announced in March 2021.

Treading very cautiously, President Hassan left many of the curbs on the media in place, and avoiding direct confrontation with the security clique who ran Magufuli's government. Instead, she has gradually built a new cohort of supporters and presided over a halting rapprochement with opposition politicians.

But Hassan's efforts to reach out to journalists will involve unpicking extensive controls and dealing with failure of communications across the system. Barely two months into his presidency, Magufuli's administration had banned live parliamentary proceedings on state TV as a cost-cutting measure.

It was a move described by oppositionists as censorship as the broadcast was among the few avenues to keep the government accountable.

This was followed by a raft of legal reforms including the 2015 Cybercrimes Act and the 2016 Media Services Act and the Electronic and Postal Communication Act (EPOCA).

2020 revisions to EPOCA set out a detailed list of 'prohibited content' for media outlets. It also reduced the amount of time that a license-holder had to respond to prohibited content violations by suspending or terminating an account (AC Vol 61 No 1, Back to the one-party state & Vol 60 No 15, One rule for the party).

At an event marking last week's World Press Freedom Day in Arusha the President assured journalists that the dialogue between the government and media stakeholders will be stepped up in the coming months. Hassan is understood to have promised to table amendments to these bills by September.

She has also directed the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Information Technology to review the Media Services Act of 2016, urging them to 'come up with better and friendly laws and regulations that would protect journalists and open more space for the freedom of expression and the media.'

In February, Hassan ordered the information ministry to lift a ban on four media outlets imposed by Magufuli. The four newspapers; Daima, Mawio, Mwanahalisi and Mseto had been banned from publishing for various offences including the exposure of alleged corruption and human rights violations, under the Media Services Act, and the now repealed Newspaper Act.

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