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Press Freedom

Tanzania's Magufuli tightens noose on press freedom

Chrispin Mwakideu
August 11, 2020

Tanzania’s media regulatory body, TCRA, will now require local media stations to seek government approval before broadcasting foreign content. Press freedom activists are calling on the regulations to be reviewed.

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

Local stations in Tanzania that are already airing programs from foreign international media will now be required to apply for authorization and present the agreements to the country's media regulatory body, according to Tanzania's Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

Tanzania says it will not halt any of the broadcasts or the current agreements in place. 

"This is a good procedure that will enable TCRA to understand such agreements and successfully oversee the sector in accordance with the available laws and regulations," Andrew Kisaka, a TCRA official told DW.

The amendments — regulating radio and television broadcasts — were issued after Radio Free Africa aired a BBC interview with Tanzania's opposition leader Tundu Lissu.

In the interview, Lissu claimed that authorities had denied him a chance to pay his last respects to former President Benjamin Mkapa, who was buried on July 29. The TCRA deemed the interview misleading, as it did not seek clarification from a government spokesperson. 

"We are approaching our presidential elections in October 2020. I would like to believe that they would like to see how the media will comply with the government line of thinking," Pili Mtambalike, a former regulations and standards manager at the Media Council of Tanzania, told DW.

Mtambalike pointed to how the media coverage of the various presidential candidates collecting forms from the Electoral Commission differed widely when compared to the ruling party's platform. "Of course there is a lot of coverage for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. The opposition parties have been a little bit short-changed," Mtambalike said.

Tanzania's deteriorating press freedom record

Tanzania ranks 124 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.

Back in 2016, Tanzania had a law named the Media Services Act. For Mtambalike, it was a very problematic legislation. "People in the media went to court and, later, the East African Court of Justice struck out some sections of the Act because they went against the East African Community's regulations."

Tanzania's opposition presidential candidateTundu Lissu
Tanzania's Chadema opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu has accused the ruling CCM of an uneven playing field ahead of electionsImage: Getty Images/AFP

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said it was aware of the new two amendments to regulations which are very important to the press freedom environment. "These are the 2018 online content regulations which were already restrictive but have now been made more punitive, and the radio and television regulations," Muthoki Mumo, CPJ's sub-Saharan representative, told DW.

Muthoki, however, noted that she had yet to see the full amendments on broadcasting — as only a statement on radio and television regulations were made available by the government. "It is very important for the sake of transparency and for the sake of the media outlets which would be forced to adhere to these new regulations and for the sake of public discourse, to make sure that the radio and television regulations are made public, distributed as widely as possible so that everyone can see for themselves, and if they have concerns they can raise them with the government."

DW and international media affected 

The media regulatory body TCRA has determined, with immediate effect, that all domestic media must apply for a separate license if they wish to broadcast content from foreign media on their channels. The partner broadcasters of several international media, including DW, are directly affected. 

Media outlets in Tanzania must re-register and are not allowed to broadcast programs of their foreign broadcast partners until a new license is granted. Several DW partner channels have temporarily suspended broadcasting the regularly adopted DW programs after the new regulation was announced. The channels have been given one week to submit a new license application, according to sources in media management.

DW, which has a large following in Tanzania, has since issued a statement on the new regulations, describing them as "a worrying trend towards restrictions on press freedom."

Tanzania President John Magufuli
Under President Magufuli, Tanzania's freedom of the press has faired poorly Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

DW Director General Peter Limbourg said: "This is a clumsy attempt to suppress critical voices and independent information before the elections in Tanzania. DW's programs are extremely popular among users in Tanzania."

"The first reactions of our partners show enormous civil courage. But this far-reaching form of state censorship is difficult to counter. 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."

Monitoring, 'censorship' ahead of election

According to Mtambakile, Tanzania's strict media laws have led to censorship in newsrooms. "People are very careful about what they report because it is very easy to get your newspaper, radio or television station shut down because of these laws," she said. 

Mtambalike added that the Tanzanian media has been perhaps more pro-Magufuli than his predecessors — but warned that with such leanings in the media "you tend to write more about the praises rather than to also criticize the system."

Depdatus Balile, chairman of the Tanzania Editor's Forum, told DW  that the new regulations go a bit against the candid law that is found in the constitution under Article 18 — which encourages freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom to share your opinion.

A man walks past a banner with graphics on Tanzania's 2020 election
The East African nation is gearing up for the October elections amid tighter media regulationsImage: DW/S. Khamis

"The system of enacting laws in Tanzania is usually retroactive but now they have decided to use a retrospective system where the law which is enacted today is affecting what happened a day before, a month before, or a year before. We think it's not a good idea for a law to affect mistakes that were made before the law was enacted," Balile said.

Kennedy Wandera, chairperson of the Foreign Press Association, Africa (FPAA), told DW: "What is happening in Tanzania is very unfortunate, you would expect that they would be able to leverage the media gains in that particular country, especially when they are getting to elections," he said. 

"But with these regulations, I think that it is going to be seen by the media as a way of curtailing their work, which is very wrong."

Wandera, however, noted that the association of Tanzania's local media with international media helps the country to show the world what it is capable of doing. "For instance, tourism. Tanzania has a rich tourism industry, if such cannot be told on the global stage, then it becomes difficult for people outside Tanzania to understand what is happening in Tanzania. Media freedom is a core pillar of democracy in Tanzania and any other country for that matter."

Balile says the Tanzania Editor's Forum will advise the government accordingly. "We think they will understand our position. We are not going to use force whatsoever but we are going to advise them to make sure that we nurture freedom of expression for the betterment of this country."

Interview: Tanzania opposition leader Tundu Lissu