Freedom of expression environment deteriorates as Tanzania heads for elections

Freedom of expression environment deteriorates as Tanzania heads for elections

With just under a week to go before Tanzania’s elections on 28 October 2020, the government’s stranglehold over the media is once again in the limelight.

In the past 10 months, the Tanzanian government has suspended a number of media organisations from broadcasting or publishing, among them Clouds FM and Clouds TV, Mwananchi daily newspaper’s website, while the Tanzania Daima, the country’s second newspaper, has been indefinitely barred from publishing.

Tanzania Daima, whose licence was suspended on June 23, is owned by the opposition leader, Freeman Mbowe. It was accused of breaching the law and professional ethics, but the authorities did not cite which regulations had been flouted.

During this period, journalist Mary Victor, with the RaiaMwema newspaper, was charged for sedition after she allegedly shared a video clip of patients allegedly fleeing a COVID-19 centre in that country.

In April, Talib Ussi Hamad, a journalist with the Tanzania Daima, was suspended for six months for his reports on the COVID-19 outbreak in that country.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has documented that at least one online television station, a news site, and at least four other broadcasters have been ordered to temporarily suspend programming.

At least 10 other media outlets have been suspended, as Tanzania continues with a heavy-handed approach to enforcing media and freedom of expression regulations.

In addition to this, Tanzania announced a new set of regulations for foreign media. Under the new regulations, local media houses are now required to seek permission from the government before broadcasting content from foreign media outlets.

The Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), decreed that local media should apply for a separate licence, which will allow them to broadcast content from foreign media on their channels.

Furthermore, there is reasonable suspicion that authorities have resorted to online attacks on the media and media activists.

In the past few weeks, a number of popular Twitter accounts have been targeted, with unknown characters making false copyright infringement claims. This has led to Twitter suspending social media accounts. Among the suspended accounts are @kigogo2014, an account that is critical of the government and has a huge following.

Last year, Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola vowed to investigate and reveal whoever was behind that Twitter account. Lugola said Tanzania’s crimes department will start dealing with cybercrimes including arresting the person who was behind the @kigogo2014, Twitter account.

The threat was made a few days before Tanzania’s civic elections.

MISA Zimbabwe position

The decline in the freedom of the media and expression environment in Tanzania is quite jarring.

The attacks on freedom of expression and of the media in Tanzania are meant to instil fear and a culture of self-censorship, while also at the same time shielding the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi from scrutiny and accountability.

It is also unfortunate that the attacks on the media come in the run-up to elections, where ordinarily freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media should be promoted as opposed to this scenario where the government is clamping down on independent and dissenting voices.

MISA Zimbabwe cannot overemphasise the importance of allowing the media to operate freely in the run-up to, during and after elections so that voters are able to make informed decisions and choices. These are the tenets of democracy.

There is need for Tanzania to ensure its media freedom and freedom of expression laws, and the right to access to information, are aligned to the African Union (AU) protocols and instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, and the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.

About MISA Zimbabwe

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe was founded in 1996. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.