Reporters Without Borders deplores strict new media regulations imposed by the authorities in Tanzania, which will have profound implications for national and foreign news organizations just months before the October presidential election.
The Tanzania Communications Regulation Authority (TCRA) announced the new measures on 10 August aimed at tightening government control over national and foreign media outlets. Under the new rules, which strengthen a 2018 law regulating electronic and postal communications, Tanzanian broadcasters are barred from airing national or international content on their platforms without prior permission from the government. The measures apply to Tanzanian stations that rebroadcast content from international outlets such as the BBC, Voice of America and Radio France International. Journalists and foreign correspondents who work with local news organizations must be accompanied by a government official throughout their assignment.
A few days earlier, the TCRA reprimanded the privately-owned local station Radio Free Africa (RFA) for airing a BBC interview with the opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, in which he said the government had prevented him from paying his last respects to former president Benjamin Mkapa in July. The regulatory body complained that the interview lacked balance and issued a stern warning against RFA, placing it on probation for three months for breaching broadcasting regulations. Three other stations, Radio One Stereo, Abood FM Radio and CG FM, also received severe warnings and were placed under observation by the TCRA for three months.
"These measures are a major blow for the Tanzanian media and for the diversity of news," said RSF deputy editor-in-chief Catherine Monnet. "Just three months away from the presidential election, a whole segment of programmes enjoyed by Tanzanian citizens are being subjected to increased control and restrictions at a key moment in the country's democratic life, when everyone should be allowed access to pluralist, independent and critical news and information."
The Media Institute of Southern Africa, a regional press freedom watchdog, also spoke of the "disturbing trend" of clamping down on freedom of expression and media freedom in Tanzania, "where media freedom is continuously on the decline, with authorities coming up with arbitrary regulations to curtail the operations of the press". According to the institute, an RSF partner organization, the goal is "probably meant to give the incumbent, President John Magufuli an advantage in the forthcoming elections, but it will also do irreparable harm to Tanzania's democracy credentials".
At the same time, the authorities introduced new online content regulations last month targeting users of social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. It is now illegal to post messages that "ridicule, abuse or harm the reputation, prestige or status" of Tanzania. The new law, which took effect on 17 July, also bans the posting of content on the Covid-19 pandemic without approval from a government official.
Since 2016, Tanzania has dropped 53 places in the World Press Freedom Index compiled annually by RSF. This is the biggest fall of any country in recent years. Tanzania is now ranked 118th of 180 countries in the index.