Freedom of Expression
THE World Press Freedom Day provides us with an opportunity to restate and reaffirm our stand on Freedom of Expression.
Freedom of expression means a lot to all of us present here and to mankind. It is, among others, freedom to think and generate ideas and views. Freedom to speak out one’s mind. Freedom to seek information. Freedom to share that information with anyone. Freedom to differ, in opinion/views, with anyone including authority.
But in order for freedom of expression to be complete and fully enjoyed, such expression must be uttered, published in the press or broadcast. This means opinion that is not demonstrated in practice, uttered, printed or broadcast, remains as captive as its source. Therefore today is the day to restate our commitment to nurture free speech and to guard the same.
However, today’s event comes at the most opportune time in the history of Tanzania. It comes at a time when revelations have it that a businessman/woman and a government official are pressed cheek to cheek in a corruption tango.
The event comes at a time when the nation is submerged in total bewilderment resulting from massive siphoning of public funds for personal aggrandizement. It comes at a time when those in the upper echelons of leadership are alleged, and others proved, hardcore masterminds of fraudulence, which has milked public coffers dry.
This event therefore, comes at a time of heated discussion and arguments on what should be done to bring back to public coffers, funds stolen from banks and through dubious companies and satanic contracts. Indeed, it is at a time when information is flowing in, from all sides, to tell the story of who stole what, when, with whom; and who did not get his share of the loot of thousands of billions of shillings, enough to cause a halt on borrowing from countries abroad.
This is the time when even the dumb have their voices high on top of mountains; when every information bearer has a contribution to make; when citizens are seeking answers to questions hitherto unasked and demanding for authority’s action.
Fortunately, this is the time when a good number of media outlets have decided never to blink lest they lose the trend of events and stories of untold scandals resulting from grand corruption that has left the economy bleeding profusely.
As a trainer in anti-corruption, I know that if corruption is to be attacked, it must be exposed through giving necessary information and resources to citizens. That is, information supplied must be broad, in full context and bearing public relevance. Such information, does not only stimulate debate and action, but also provides long lasting knowledge on corruption and the way to fight the vice.
It is the work of serious media outlets; indeed of committed reporters, editors, publishers and broadcasters, that can provide the citizenry with authoritative data with which to widen their horizons and enhance their understanding on corruption and how to fight it. Again, it is media that can mercilessly expose authority’s conspiracy in corruption, its complacency and, or inability to tackle corruption, to a point of igniting a dormant giant into action.
Given the circumstances obtaining in the country today, especially the obscenity of money drawn at ease from public coffers; a kind of corruption speedily impoverishing the nation and its people; weakening government and becoming a potential source of conflict, the 3rd May of this year must necessarily leave us with a commitment to make Tanzania “a talking nation.”
A talking nation is an informed nation. It knows what is happening and why. It knows what links business with government and who facilitates corruption and malfeasance. But for the nation, say citizenry, to keep talking, it must
necessarily have the right conduits through which to exercise freedom of expression – media outlets.
Corruption, and especially grand corruption, cannot survive if the public is informed about the nature and extent of abuse of power. Here, the willing media can faithfully provide an avenue through which the entire citizenry can strongly address the leadership; instill fresh thinking, put forward their demands and cause to bring about change for the better.
However, it is unfortunate that Press Freedom Day this year finds some media outlets in the country divided. One part is keenly looking to expose corruption and the other part is avariciously aiding and abetting those who have been found to be grand looters. This is quite an unhealthy situation. As if that was not enough, political thuggery has taken root; attacking editors and media workers of effective media outlets from all corners – verbal threats, court cases, organized hit squads and directives as to how media must do its work. But there is neither slackness nor surrender; at least that is the message already communicated to the world.
As we pledge to remain firm to defend freedom of expression for the betterment of the nation and the entire world citizenry, let’s also pledge to support, in word and deed, all those who have vowed to expose corruption at all costs.
Thank you very much for paying attention as I read this message. I wish you a good observation of World Press Freedom Day this year – 2008.
(The statement was delivered in an imprompt version of Kiswahili at a gathering to commemorate Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2008 at Courtyard Hotel in Dar es Salaam. The function was organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania Chapter (MISA-Tan), IPP media, UNESCO and UN information Offices in the country. An unofficial traslation into Kiswahili is available in a separate posting)