Forward of elections, Tanzania’s regulator is used as a cudgel in opposition to the media
On August 27, the second day of mainland Tanzania’s official campaign period leading up to the October 28 elections, authorities ordered private broadcasters Clouds TV and Clouds FM to replace their regular programming with an hour-long apology until midnight and then stop planning altogether for a week.
The exaggerated remorse was dictated by the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), on the grounds that both broadcasters violated the law by announcing the results of the parliamentary candidates’ candidacy without verifying the information with the Tan Electoral Commission.
This type of punishment is becoming more common in Tanzania. In 2020, the TCRA ordered at least one Internet television station, news website and at least four other broadcasters to temporarily suspend programming and fined at least 10 other media outlets, according to CPJ’s review of TCRA public statements. The regulator cited violent and sexual content as the reason for punishing some stores. Others were punished for allegedly misleading or biased reporting on issues such as politics and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The regulator’s aggressive stance – the latest development in a decade of CPJ-documented press freedom in Tanzania – undermines the press’ ability to cover the upcoming elections independently, according to 12 Tanzanian journalists who spoke to CPJ in September and in October.
“There is an atmosphere of fear – a deep-rooted fear for journalists. Self-censorship has been set. People prefer not to do things than to do them and risk being reprimanded by the TCRA or the ministry [of information]”, Said General Olimingu, a columnist for the weekly TheEastAfrican and a former Tanzanian MP.
Ulimwengu, who spoke to CPJ through the messaging app in September and October, said he believed the media avoided criticizing Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Tanzania’s ruling party.
Incumbent President John Maguofli is running for re-election against 14 other candidates, according to reports. As the vote approaches, Tanzanian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on civil society and the opposition, raising concerns among political observers and rights groups that conditions in the country will not “lead to free and fair elections” like researcher Ringisai Chikohom . with the African Non-Profit Institute for Security Studies, set it.
Journalists who spoke to CPJ in December 2015 hoped that the newly elected Magufuli could reform cybercrime and statistics laws and prevent a problematic proposed media law. Instead, for the past five years, the CPJ has documented an abuse of press freedom through retaliation, arbitrary media shutdowns and restrictive legislation.
In July, Tanzania updated its 2018 Content Regulations, consolidating the conditions for Internet news providers, including bloggers, to pay excessive subscription fees to TCRA and tightening bans on broad content content, including physical content. disasters, in accordance with the rules, which The CPJ was revised. The updated regulations also further authorize TCRA, an autonomous “almost independent government agency” established in 2003 to oversee electronic media and frequency management, to act as an executor.
“TCRA has gone beyond a regulatory authority and taken on a seemingly censoring role,” Maria Sarungi-Tsehai, director of Kwanza Independent Internet TV, told CPJ through the messaging app in September.
Khalifa Said, a freelance journalist who spoke to CPJ in September, recalled interviewing a videographer to work with him on a project he was so afraid of asking for a contract clause to absolve him of liability if he called. regulator.
TCRA officials did not respond to CPJ emails requesting comment in September and October. The CPJ also contacted the Tanzanian Minister of Information, who has the authority to appoint the Director General of TCRA as well as members of the Board. In a phone call, the minister, Harrison Mukibebe, declined to comment, saying he was concerned about the election. He referred to CPJ to government spokesman Hassan Abai but did not respond to CPJ texts or calls.
In April, TCRA suspended Muananci, a Kiswahili-language newspaper, from posting online 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 that the video had been interpreted to show that the president was acting inappropriately amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the regulator hit Kwanza Online TV with an 11-month ban on sharing the US embassy’s COVID-19 travel warning, as documented by the CPJ. Mwananchi returned to the internet on October 16, according to reports on its website and TheCitizen, which is owned by the same company.
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 you will be banned for a week? For a year? “Said Chachage, who is based in the United States, in a video call with CPJ.
Between January and April, the Tanzanian Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (THRDC) documented the prosecution of at least seven journalists and bloggers for allegedly failing to register YouTube websites and pages with TCRA, according to public statements. The Coalition, which is an umbrella for local rights groups, said it had documented a total of at least 13 people persecuted during this period. two were convicted and paid 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 had been prosecuted under the law, who said the registration fee was too prohibitive and that they lived in fear of possible sanctions. “It’s cheaper for me to go to jail for a year than to pay that fine,” said blogger Jabir Johnson, the only one of the three who agreed to be named and whose trial is ongoing.
The regulator also aims for local media to use foreign content. In August, the TCRA issued warnings to four Tanzanian radio stations for rebroadcasting an interview with the BBC about opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, according to a TCRA statement.
These warnings followed changes to broadcasting rules in June, which require local stations to authorize TCRA to run content other than their own, according to reports. The rules also include a vague provision that broadcasters must involve a government official in any dealings with foreigners without providing details.
Officials explained the rules as a way to monitor collaborations with foreign companies and ensure that foreign content complies with local standards, according to media reports and a TCRA statement.
“We remain very concerned about the new regulation, as it appears to be a tool intended to control which media outlets in Tanzania will be able to publish in the future, ultimately putting the public at a disadvantage,” the DW chief told Africa, Claus O Stäcker, told CPJ via email that he had said that all of the German broadcaster’s Tanzanian partners had received the new license without delay.
In a statement on August 31, the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees Voice of America (VOA), said some of its partners in Tanzania “immediately stopped transmitting internationally produced programs” when the regulations were made public. In an email on October 15, USAGM told CPJ that 23 of the agency’s 24 partner stations now carry VOA content. is still waiting for a TCRA license to do so.
USAGM told CPJ that it does not believe the new Broadcasting Regulations will have an impact on VOA election coverage. However, local journalists who spoke to CPJ are less optimistic.
“We try to be professional and balanced, but even that will not protect you. “Right now, as a journalist, you will fight,” a journalist told Watetezi TV, a THRDC-owned store. The journalist asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.