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Tanzania cracks down on foreign press coverage

Kai Dambach
August 11, 2020

Under a new law, reporters in Tanzania will face stricter controls and media outlets would need permission to broadcast foreign content. DW has warned against "a worrying trend towards restrictions on press freedom."

Tanzanian holding a sign reading "We need freedom of press"
Image: DW/A. Juma

The Tanzanian government has formally banned all local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without official permission.

The changes will affect partner broadcasters of several international media outlets, including DW.

"This is a clumsy attempt to suppress critical voices before the elections in Tanzania," said DW chief Peter Limbourg, warning that it was hard to counter "this far-reaching form of state censorship."

"We support our partner broadcasters in Tanzania and together we will find ways to keep the population well informed, for example through the increased use of social media," Limbourg added.

Later, a representative of Tanzanian regulatory body TCRA downplayed the move, saying that the authorties "have not banned any foreign media outlets" from broadcasting the through the local stations.

"What has been directed through that new regulation is to ensure that the agreements between our local broadcasting stations and foreign media outlets are submitted to the authority within seven days. So that we can keep records which will be a reference document of the agreement made by the two parts," TCRA's Andrew Kisaka told DW. "That is all."

Initially, a local media outlet cited documents to report that foreign media working with local journalists would have to be accompanied by a government official. The government has since downplayed these claims. 

New law to have 'massive' effect

Among other issues, the new regulation will ban a broadcaster or a media outlet registered in Tanzania from joining forces with another content service provider to broadcast local or foreign programs without official permission, DW said in a statement on Tuesday. The Germany-based broadcaster described it as a "worrying trend towards restrictions on press freedom."

Read more: Algerian journalist Drareni sentenced to three years in prison

With the presidential election due in October, foreign press outlets are concerned that they may not be able to properly cover the event.

DW journalist Fred Muvunyi said he has "never seen or heard anything like this in my life as a journalist."

Kennedy Wandera, chairperson of Africa's Foreign Press, said the new law will have a massive effect on media independence.

"It is very important that they give leeway to journalists to do what they do best without monitoring them because once they're monitored, that's censorship," Wandera told Kenyan newspaper The Standard.

The announcement came just hours after President John Pombe Magufuli's main opponent, Tundu Lissu, was interviewed by Kenya's Radio Citizen on several issues, including human rights, the coronavirus pandemic and press freedom in the nation.

Lissu had returned to Tanzania for the first time in five years after an assassination attempt, according to Kenyans.co.ke.

Not the first restriction

Since July, it has been illegal to post messages that ridicule Tanzania's reputation on social media. Tanzanian Information Minister Harrison Mwakyembe signed the bill into law, which also prohibits publishing content on the ongoing pandemic without official permission.

Social media users have also been barred from openly planning, promoting or calling for marches in the nation.

Tanzania has faced extensive criticism for its tough stance on press freedom under President Magufuli. The country was ranked 124th in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

This article has been amended to show the government distancing itself from the claims that foreign reporters would need to be accompanied by government officials.