Tanzanian government has officially banned all local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without government permission.
As crackdown on free press and dissident voices intensifies in Tanzania, the new regulations demand the presence of a government custodian when a foreign journalist is covering a local story.
The new regulations dubbed ‘The electronic and postal communications’ amendment for both radio and television were issued Monday 10 August by Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.
Radio Free Africa has been put on notice by TCRA, expected to issue an explanation as to why action shouldn’t be taken on them for broadcasting BBC’s ‘Amka na BBC’ morning program on 29 July. BBC had interviewed Chadema’s Presidential flagbearer Tundu Lissu claiming they were ‘denied entry at Mkapa’s funeral’.
With the presidential elections nearing on October, the new law suggests that all foreign correspondents will not be able to work with local journalists and fixers unless a state official is with them wherever they go.
It is illegal to post messages that ridicule the reputation of Tanzania on social media platforms. Tanzanian Information Minister Harrison Mwakyembe signed into law the 2020 regulations, which became operational on 17 July.
Dar es Salaam has been on a lethal offensive that will see the state tighten and fully control the usage of internet and media.
The new law also prohibits content on coronavirus in the country without the approval of a state official.
According to the regulations, social media users will not be able to rally each other, plan, promote or even call for demonstration’s marches in the nation.
Tanzania has become increasingly authoritarian since John Magufuli came to power in 2015. Media freedom has been under threat, the Swahili-speaking nation was ranked position 124 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by the Reporters without Borders.
The contentious law has drawn the ire of the public, media colleagues as well as human rights activists in Tanzania and abroad.
Kennedy Wandera, Chairperson of Africa’s Foreign Press argues that the new law has a very huge ramification on media and its independence, you don’t expect a journalist to report freely when a government official is accompanying them.
‘’It is very important that they give a leeway to journalists to do what they do best without monitoring them because once they’re monitored, that’s censorship,’’ said Wandera.
Wandera further notes that a free press is a core pillar of healthy democracy and foreign media at most times play a critical role in helping nations get a position in the international platform and coming up with such laws is a clear violation of media freedom.
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The new media and online regulations come hours after President Magufuli’s main opponent in the October polls Tundu Lissu was interviewed by Kenya’s Radio Citizen on issues ranging from elections, media freedom, human rights and coronavirus status in the nation.
The Chadema Deputy Chair and Presidential flagbearer claims that President Magufuli’s government has already warned the various media outlets against carrying any content that bears his name or that of his party.
‘’Tanzania is facing very turbulent times when it comes to press freedoms and human rights, they have imposed very draconian laws that barres the media from reporting and citizens from expressing themselves freely, no media outlet is writing about my candidature, they are scared but we will triumph,’’ he told Kenya’s Radio Citizen Monday morning.
There has been a rallying call from Tanzania’s main opposition party Chadema urging the Kenyan media to offer the opposition a platform that they can use to air out their views since the government started the media crackdown.
Kenyan journalists took to twitter in solidarity with their Tanzanian colleagues.
‘’They want to control all content and have turned their guns on foreign journalists, they want to gag and seal all loopholes of any media freedom in the country, under threat is underestimating the situation, they have gagged and muzzled the press,’’ posted Martin Wachira, Editor-in-Chief Pulselive Kenya.
In 2 May 2020, Arnaud Froger during an interview with The Standard noted that no other nation in the world has experienced a drastic decline in press freedom in the past four years.
Kwanza TV, Mwananchi, Star media, MultiChoice Tanzania and Azam Digital have in the past been on the receiving of the State’s big stick. The latter three outlets were fined 2,000 euros (238, 000) by the Tanzanian Communication Regulatory Authority and forced to issue a public apology over seven days for carrying a report by Kenya’s Citizen TV that described President John Magufuli as stubborn.
In May 2020, Two Kenyan journalists from Elimu TV were arrested in Tanzania while interviewing members of the public on the status of coronavirus pandemic in the nation. The two scribes were later arraigned in court where they pleaded guilty of entering Tanzania illegally, they were fined Ksh.46,000 each.
Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo told The Standard in May that Tanzania has been a country of grave concern for CPJ over the last few years. CPJ has documented the use of media shutdowns, arrests, intimidation, judicial harassment and restrictive regulations to muzzle the free press.
When reached for a comment, Muthoki said that CPJ had received reports indicating that there are new regulations concentrating on radio and TV in Tanzania, and CPJ was reviewing and verifying the reports as well as analyzing the potential implication’s the laws have towards media freedom in the nation.
The biggest blow to individual journalists in Tanzania was the arbitrary arrest and detention for seven months of journalist Erick Kabendera. Kabendera charges changed three times in the first weeks of prosecution. He was later freed in April 2020 but fined heftily, Kabendera has laid low since then.
Jebra Kambole, an advocate of the High Court in Tanzania represented journalist Erick Kabendera during his case. The lawyer argues that the new regulations affect not only the media but also the general public especially on prohibition of organized protests and demonstration through social media.
Kambole says the government has fully control over the mainstream media as well as social media.
Tanzanians journalists who requested anonymity told Standard Digital that the government has created a climate of fear and harassment in the media sector.
‘’With such laws, where do they expect us to go, it’s like telling us to go start a new livelihood, this a big blow to media freedom in the country’’ they said.
Standard Digital monitored twitter trends in Tanzania by 8PM EAT and only three trends were trending, with majority of the social media users opting to engage more about football, a clear sign of how lethal the contentious laws are.
Only a few Tanzanians condemned boldly and openly the new law.
We sought a comment from Media Council of Tanzania and Tanzanian Editors Forum but at the time of publishing, they had not replied.