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Government warns "unethical" media

(MISA/IFEX) - The government has issued a stern warning against "unethical" news media, saying that such conduct has contributed to the fall of moral standards in the country.

On 20 August 2002, the Prime Minister's Office issued a four-page statement, warning that the government would not hesitate to take punitive measures against any newspaper that publishes material in violation of professional ethics. "It is the hope of the government that all the news media organs, which have been publishing materials provoking numerous complaints from the public, will stop such conduct forthwith so as to uphold morality in our society."

The statement specifically condemns tabloids that publish semi-pornographic materials and grisly front page photographs of dead people, ostensibly to "inform the public" about what is happening in society. Furthermore, it states that news media should respect people's privacy and that intruding into an individual's private life is only fair if geared towards demonstrable public interest. The statement notes that some newspapers have intruded on people's privacy with the flimsy excuse that they were covering people who were prominent and hence newsworthy. Moreover, the government writes that the news that is published is often one-sided, exposing only the ills of these so-called prominent individuals.

Since the advent of a free market, there has been a proliferation of private media outlets from a handful to over 400. However, a large number of the newer media houses are part of the "yellow press," which often defies ethics in order to compete.

Background Information

On 26 July 2001, the Tanzanian government banned nine local Kiswahili weekly magazines and suspended three tabloids for allegedly publishing indecent photographs that corrupt society and thwart campaigns to combat HIV-AIDS in the country (see IFEX alert of 27 July 2001).

The Kiswahili tabloids which were suspended for six months are "Cheko" and "Zungu", while "Kombora" was suspended for twelve months.

The Kiswahili magazines banned by the government are "Mama Huruma", "Tafrani", "Chachandu", "Mizengwe", "Maraha", "Kula Vitu", "Penzi Kikohozi", "Uroda kwa Foleni" and "Simulizi Kutoka Chumbani".

Tanzania has a Media Council and Code of Conduct. However, neither are active nor adhered to due to operational problems.

MISA's Tanzanian chapter (MISA-Tanzania) is currently implementing a Media Freedom Monitoring Project, which, among other things, will look at the issue of ethics and professionalism in the local media.

MISA opposes any legislative attempt to regulate the conduct and practice of the media. MISA believes that regulatory structures should be voluntary and free from both government intervention and control, as well as the control of media owners.

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