Forward of elections, Tanzania’s regulator is used as a cudgel towards the media
On August 27, the second day of mainland Tanzania’s official election campaign before the October 28 elections, authorities ordered private broadcasters Clouds TV and Clouds FM to replace their regular broadcasts with an hour-long apology until midnight and then the broadcasts all to set for an hour a week.
The exaggerated portrayal of remorse was dictated by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) on the grounds that both broadcasters broke the law by broadcasting nomination results for parliamentary candidates without checking the information with the Tanzania Electoral Commission.
This type of punishment is becoming more and more common in Tanzania. In 2020, the TCRA ordered at least one online television station, a news site, and at least four other broadcasters to temporarily suspend broadcasting, and fined at least 10 other media outlets, as CPJ reviewed TCRA’s public statements. The regulator cited violent and sexual content as grounds for punishing some outlets. others have been fined for allegedly misleading or biased reporting on topics such as politics and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The regulator’s aggressive stance – the latest development in a year-long decline in press freedom in Tanzania documented by CPJ – is undermining the press’s ability to report independently on the upcoming elections, according to a dozen Tanzanian journalists who spoke with CPJ in September October.
“There is an atmosphere of fear – a deeply rooted fear of journalists. Self-censorship has started. People prefer not to do things rather than do them, and risk criticism from the TCRA or the Ministry [of information]”Said Jenerali Ulimwengu, columnist for the weekly newspaper TheEastAfrican and former Tanzanian MP.
Ulimwengu, who spoke to CPJ via a messaging app in September and October, said he thinks the media is reluctant to criticize Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Tanzania’s ruling party.
Incumbent President John Magufuli is reportedly running for re-election against 14 other candidates. As the vote approaches, the Tanzanian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on civil society and the opposition, which has raised concerns among political observers and legal organizations that conditions in the country will not lead to free and fair elections, according to researcher Ringisai Chikohomero with the African non-profit institute for security studies, say it.
Journalists who spoke to CPJ in December 2015 hoped the newly elected Magufuli could reform cybercrime laws and anti-press statistics and prevent a troubled proposed media law. Instead, over the past five years, CPJ has documented a stick of press freedom through retaliation, arbitrary media shutdowns, and restrictive laws.
In July, Tanzania updated its online content regulations for 2018, stating requirements for internet news providers, including bloggers, to pay exorbitant registration fees to TCRA and bans on broad categories of content, including political demonstrations and natural disasters, under the current rules to tighten CPJ reviewed. The updated regulations empower TCRA, a self-described “quasi-independent government agency” established in 2003 to monitor electronic media and manage frequencies, as enforcers.
“TCRA has moved beyond a regulator and taken on a seemingly censored role,” Maria Sarungi-Tsehai, director of the independent Kwanza Online TV, told CPJ in September via a messaging app.
Khalifa Said, a freelance journalist who spoke to CPJ in September, recalled interviewing a videographer to work with him on a project so fearful that he moved a clause in his contract to dismiss him from exempt from liability should the supervisory authority call.
TCRA officials did not respond to CPJ’s emails asking for comment in September and October. CPJ also contacted the Tanzanian Minister of Information, who is empowered to appoint the Director General of TCRA and board members. In a phone call, Minister Harrison Mwakyembe declined to comment, saying he was busy with elections. He referred CPJ to government spokesman Hassan Abbasi but did not respond to the CPJ’s texts or calls.
In April, TCRA suspended Mwananchi, a Kiswahili-language newspaper, from online publication for six months for posting an old video of Magufuli in a busy fish market. At the time, people familiar with the matter told CPJ the video was interpreted to show the president acted unwise amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, regulator Kwanza Online TV struck down with an 11-month ban on passing on a COVID-19 travel warning from the American embassy, CPJ documented. According to reports on its website and on TheCitizen, owned by the same company, Mwananchi went back online on October 16.
Chambi Chachage, a Tanzanian political commentator and postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, said that while some regulation was needed, he was concerned about what he described as inconsistent and arbitrary application of the rules.
“Who decides that you will be banned for a week? For a year? ”Said Chachage, who lives in the US, on a video call with CPJ.
Between January and April, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) documented the prosecution of at least seven journalists and bloggers who, according to the coalition’s public statements, allegedly failed to register websites and YouTube pages with the TCRA. The coalition, an umbrella organization for local rights groups, said it had documented at least 13 people who were prosecuted during this period. Two of them were convicted and given the minimum fine of five million Tanzanian shillings ($ 2,150) instead of going to jail for 12 months.
In August and September, CPJ spoke to three people who were being prosecuted under this law. They said the cost of registration is too prohibitive and they live in fear of possible penalties. “It’s cheaper for me to go to jail for a year than to pay this fine,” said blogger Jabir Johnson, the only one of the three who agreed to be named and whose trial is pending.
The regulator has also targeted local media for the use of foreign content. In August, the TCRA warned four Tanzanian radio stations not to re-broadcast a BBC interview with opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, according to a TCRA statement.
These warnings followed changes in broadcasting rules in June that reportedly require local broadcasters to be licensed with TCRA to serve content other than their own. The rules also contain a vague provision that broadcasters must involve a government official in dealing with foreigners without disclosing.
According to media reports and a statement from TCRA, officials have clarified the rules to keep an eye on partnerships with overseas companies and to ensure that overseas content meets local standards.
“We are still very concerned about the new regulation as it appears to be a tool to control which media can be published in Tanzania in the future, which ultimately disadvantages the public,” said Claus, head of DW -Afrika-Dienst Stäcker informed CPJ by email that all Tanzanian partners of the German broadcaster had received the new approval immediately.
In a statement dated August 31, the United States Global Media Agency (USAGM), which oversees Voice of America (VOA), said some of its Tanzanian subsidiaries “immediately stopped broadcasting internationally produced programs” than the Regulations were published. In an October 15 email, USAGM announced to CPJ that 23 of the agency’s 24 partner stations now contain VOA content. one is still waiting for a TCRA permit.
USAGM told CPJ it didn’t think the new broadcasting regulations would affect VOA’s coverage of the elections. Local journalists who spoke to CPJ, however, are less optimistic about their prospects.
“We try to be professional and balanced, but not even that will protect you. At the moment you are going to have problems as a journalist, ”said a reporter from Watetezi TV, a sales outlet for THRDC. The reporter asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.