Mbeya. The Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) has underscored the need for authorities in Tanzania to repeal all media laws and regulations, saying in their current shape they breed a culture of self-censorship among media practitioners and organizations.
MCT, an independent, voluntary, non-statutory self-regulatory body, made the observation in its latest State of the Media 2021-2022 report where it notes that “adverse” political and economic environments constrained media activity in the past two years.
“Political animosity and legal manipulation, especially during the fifth phase administration of President John Magufuli, muzzled media freedom in the country,” states the 133-page report in part.
“The threat of suspension, banning and revocation of media licence resulted in a high degree of self-censorship among media practitioners and organizations,” added the report. “The economic environment hit hard media operations, following a sharp drop in sales and advertising revenue.”
The laws that MCT wants to be repealed include the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (EPOCA) and its regulations; the Cybercrime Act, 2015; the Statistics Act, 2015 and the Media Services Act, 2016 (MSA).
“Online media, bloggers and other netizens have also been victims of the laws governing cyberspace,” MCT says in its report. “Bloggers and online cartoonists were arraigned and charged using the cybercrime law.”
One of the online media outlets that recently fell victim to the much-criticised regulations is the DarMpya which on July 6, 2022, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) prohibited from publishing, citing the outlet’s alleged failure to renew its publishing license as required by regulations governing online content in Tanzania.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the New York-based non-profit, condemned the move, urging Tanzanian authorities to allow the outlet to resume operations “without further interference and reform the country’s online content regulations so they cannot be used to muzzle the press.”
DarMpya CEO John Marwa, however, told The Chanzo on Tuesday that TCRA is yet to renew the outlet’s license.
“This is despite the fact that they have found us with no case to answer at all,” Marwa said. “We are considering other available options.”
MCT’s report comes at a time when there is a process going on to reform the existing media laws and regulations in an attempt to promote press freedom in Tanzania.
Initiated by the directive of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who immediately after taking office on March 19, 2021, said she does not want her administration to be accused of muzzling press freedom, the process is coordinated by Information Minister Nape Nnauye and the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF).
“The government has opened doors for a conversation on how we can improve the media environment in Tanzania,” Nnauye said on June 29, 2022, at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC).
The Chanzo asked for updates on the process from the chairperson of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) Mr Deodatus Balile who said the process was going on well but added that it would take a couple of days until it is completed.
“Reforming laws is not a one-day incident; it’s a process,” said Balile who writes for the Jamhuri newspaper. “But in the end, our interest is to have laws and regulations that do not violate the basic principles of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”
In its report, MCT said that despite the challenging environment, some media in the country distinguished themselves as vigorous and courageous performers, pushing frontiers of press freedom and freedom of expression.
“In doing so, they contributed towards the widening of democratic space, accountability and the development of a culture of transparency in governance,” MCT says. “There is no doubt that the media would have done much better had the environment been free of the challenges mentioned above.”
Asifiwe Mbembela is a Mbeya-based The Chanzo correspondent. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.