There is renewed optimism in the Tanzanian media space following the ascension to power of President Samia Suluhu whose regime is keen to relax some of the laws deemed punitive to journalists and media houses.

Tanzania has experienced an unprecedented decline in press freedom over the past five years, with the East African country falling 53 places in an international ranking by Reporters Without Borders in 2021.

In 2016, Tanzania was ranked number 71 on the World Press Freedom Index but declined to 124th position in both 2020 and 2021 rankings, marking the biggest drop during this period among all 180 researched countries.

The reversal occurred during the reign of late president John Magufuli, who died last year, and was replaced by President Samia Suluhu Hassan amid optimism that there would be a new dawn for the media industry with promises for swift reforms.

Legal and regulatory framework

Tanzania’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but does not specifically mention press freedom and this has opened the room for the government to routinely clamp down on the media industry.

There is optimism that President Hassan’s administration will repeal laws introduced by her predecessor in order to muzzle the media such as the Media Services Act, which was signed into law by Magufuli in 2016 to replace the Newspaper Act of 1976. The Media Services Act gives the government all the power to control the operations of the media industry in Tanzania.

It gives the Information minister the power to license newspapers annually and the government has routinely used this law to shut down publications that criticise its policies or expose corruption. The minister can order publications to report on issues of “national importance”.

Through the same law, the Information minister enjoys de facto control over the Journalists Accreditation Board and the Independent Media Council, bodies that are charged with upholding ethical and professional standards in the media.

All journalists are required to obtain accreditation every year and are compelled to be members of the Media Council.

Both bodies are only independent on paper as their board members are appointed by the Information minister.

Media pluralism and diversity

Research by the Media Council and Reporters Without Borders through the Media Ownership

Monitor in 2018 revealed that Tanzania’s population gets its news mostly from outlets belonging to one of the four major companies, be it in print or broadcasting. Mwananchi Communication Limited, a subsidiary of the Nairobi-based Nation Media Group, dominates the print media market followed by the IPP Media Group, New Habari (2006) Ltd and the Tanzania Standard Newspapers, which is owned by the government. IPP Media Group dominates the broadcasting sector. The government owns Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation and there is Azam Media Ltd as well as Clouds Entertainment.

Media Independence

Some journalists in small towns across Tanzania reported threats and intimidation from authorities during 2020 and 2021. Between January and April 2020, at least 13 media workers, including seven journalists and bloggers were arrested and prosecuted for allegedly contravening the Online Content Regulations of 2018.

On June 23, 2020, the government revoked the licence of the Swahili daily tabloid, Tanzania Daima, citing alleged repeated violations of national laws and journalism

ethics.  Newsrooms in commercial hub Dar es Salaam and other urban centres claim they routinely came under pressure from regulatory bodies such as the Tanzania Information Services and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) over their content.

Journalists’ safety and protection

Between January and April 2020, at least 13 media workers, including seven journalists and bloggers were arrested and prosecuted for allegedly contravening the Online Content Regulations of 2018.

The charges included failure to register websites and YouTube channels at the state-run Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the country’s communications watchdog, which oversees online content.

Newsrooms in commercial hub Dar es Salaam and other urban centres claim they routinely came under pressure from regulatory bodies such as the Tanzania Information Services and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.

Internet Access and Affordability

At least 43.7 million people have mobile phones in Tanzania, but only 23.1 million have internet access. This is despite data released by the British technology research firm Cable, which revealed that Tanzania had the cheapest internet in East Africa.

At least 43.7 million people have mobile phones in Tanzania, but only 23.1 million have internet access

The report titled World Wide Mobile Data Pricing 2021 said Tanzania “has the cheapest data in East Africa at $0.75 for every gigabyte of data.”  In the rankings, Tanzania is followed by Rwanda, where data costs US$1.25 a gigabyte, Uganda (US$1.56) and Burundi (US$2.10). There, however, remains a huge digital divide as the majority of Tanzania’s population is in rural areas, where access to the internet is limited.

Surveillance and Privacy of Online Communication Although Tanzania’s regressive online content regulations were reviewed in 2020, they still fall short of international human rights standards. Among other things, the regulations criminalise defamation, with anyone convicted of the offence liable to a fine of not less than 5 million shillings (US$2,500) or to imprisonment of not less than one year, or both the fine and jail sentence.

The regulations also stifle freedom of expression and that of the press online by imposing punitive restrictions on anyone who comments about the Tanzanian economy, its currency and communicable resorting to high levels of self-censorship diseases such as COVID-19 without the approval of “relevant authorities”.

The imposition of severe penalties has thus resulted in a chilling effect, forcing many journalists and media organisations to operate in a climate of fear of reprisal from the government, hence resorting to high levels of self-censorship.

Independent Content Producers Tanzania, in 2021, placed heavy restrictions on independent content producers with the introduction of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations that introduced licensing and taxation of bloggers, radio and television webcasters as well as online discussion forums.

The regulations introduced steep penalties even for minor offences, including imprisonment for at least a year and sweeping content removal powers. This promotes self-censorship and stifles creativity.

This article was first published by datamisa

About the Author

Author ProfileFumbuka Ng'wanakilala
The author is a veteran Tanzanian journalist

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