Last updateMar, 27 Jan 2015 11am

Dailies focus on constitution debate, press freedom

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania -  As some Tanzania’s dailies this week kept their attention on the Constituent Assembly, some others observed that the legislature is yet to start the agenda it was convened for three weeks ago.

“The three weeks have been used to draft the Assembly’s standing orders,” wrote The Citizen, noting that it has been a difficult period for the interim chair of the Assembly, Pandu Ameir Kificho, “to keep the House, which has more than 600 members, in order” and that on various occasions he was forced to adjourn sessions.

According to the daily, the Constituent Assembly hasn’t been short of drama as its members demanded increase in their daily allowances amid signals of political tension between the ruling and the opposition parties, accusations of corruption and rising tempers among members of the House.

Though some Assembly members conceded that the House performance has been poor, others defended the manner in which it conducted its business.

According to a representative of trade unions in the Assembly, Ezekiah Oluoch, time has been wasted on debate about standing orders.

“By now, we should have started discussion on the draft of the new constitution but we are wasting time on the standing orders,” The Citizen quoted Mr. Oluoch as saying.

As the week drew to an end, members of the CA took a vote in favour of a controversial aspect of its Standing Orders which bars the media from reporting part of key proceedings in the Constitution-making process.

“The majority of those who voted in favour of the standing order were, predictably, from the ruling CCM party,” The Citizen observed, explaining that, as a result, no journalist would be allowed to follow proceedings of a CA committee.

“In effect, the media have been censored. Pressmen and women will be provided with what to report! Journalists wishing to report on anything involving the proceedings of any of the six committees will have to rely on press releases.”

The Citizen said that the CA members consider allowing journalists to access and report the proceedings of the committees an invasion to privacy and above all, a dangerous indulgence which, if entertained, would distort the entire process of the constitution making.

In its editorial, the daily went on: “Their argument is that there are confidential matters, which members of the public shouldn’t be informed about, meaning that allowing the media to access what takes place in the committees would be courting disaster.

“This is a process to make or destroy the future of our country and its people. There should not be anything to hide. What the CA members are set to debate in their committees are the views they were given by the very people they want locked out. What a contradiction!

“The bridge that links the people to CA members is the media. It is therefore disturbing that members of the press are being locked out for some flimsy reasons. Or is there a hidden agenda that some CA delegates have, which they fear the media will make known and spoil things?”

Commenting on the same issue, The Guardian pointed to “the likelihood of a domino effect in this ‘love-hate’ relationship between the media and the CA.”

“When the sun shines,” the daily said, “it's Ok to sit with the media, and when things go awry, we keep them out.”

“Interestingly,” the private paper noted, “this is coming from none other than former media practitioners – who we are being made to believe have since seen the light.”

Among CA members who raised a note of caution was Transport minister, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, also a former journalist, who claimed that “when something vital is at stake in the life of a country, press freedom to access such material is always limited.”

The paper said that the purpose of limited access was being sold as a means to diminish incessant clashes of personality, or nailing committee members for what they say in the privacy of committees.

In that case, Tanzanian media would be expected to cover plenary sessions of the Assembly while committee meetings should be covered only by relying on briefings or official statements.

“The media needs to take note of the need for privacy as part of right of integrity in the work of legislation, .... [but] when a member speaks in an open session, he knows that what he is saying is meant for public consumption,” the paper added.

Pana 09/03/2014