Dar es Salaam. The online media outlet DarMpya has been forced to rebrand to ZamaMpya after the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) allegedly declined to renew its license, The Chanzo has learnt.
The move comes almost two months since the regulator, on July 6, 2022, prohibited DarMpya from publishing content online, citing the outlet’s alleged failure to renew its publishing license as required by regulations governing online content in Tanzania.
The ban was associated with DarMpya’s coverage of the June 17th demonstration outside the Kenyan High Commission in Dar es Salaam by people who described themselves as members of the Maasai community living in Dar es Salaam.
They were protesting what they termed the government of Kenya’s interference in the ongoing tug-of-war between the government of Tanzania and the indigenous people of Ngorongoro.
Tanzania wants people there to ‘relocate’ to Handeni, Tanga to preserve the World Heritage Centre from destruction but natives are protesting such a decision.
Regulation 4(1) of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2022 says: “A person shall not provide online media service without obtaining a license from the Authority.”
The regulation is named as one of the repressive regulations that stifle press freedom in Tanzania as it breeds self-censorship among journalists and media media owners in Tanzania.
But even after applying for license renewal, TCRA seemed unwilling to allow DarMpya to continue publishing.
This week’s decision by DarMpya comes almost two weeks since its CEO John Marwa told The Chanzo, on July 26, 2022, that TCRA was 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 then. “We are considering other available options.”
Mr Marwa told The Chanzo on Monday that they were no longer able to wait on TCRA’s mercy to have their license for DarMpya renewed for a number of people – about 35 workers – are dependent on the company whose inactivity makes their lives miserable.
“Our destiny [as a company] is on our hands, not on anyone’s else,” Mr Marwa said during an interview with The Chanzo. “We continue to plead for support from our readers and clients because without them we are nothing.”
TCRA’s silence on renewing the outlet’s license took place despite calls from press freedom actors to have the ban imposed on DarMpya lifted.
On July 12, 2022, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the New York-based non-profit, called on TCRA to allow DarMpya to resume operations without further interference.
It also called for reforms in the country’s online content regulations so they cannot be used to muzzle the press.
“The suspension of the DarMpya news outlet shows how such regulations can become tools of censorship,” CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo said then. “Authorities should allow DarMpya to resume operations without interference.”
The Chanzo asked TCRA communications manager Semu Mwakanjala why did the regulator refuse to renew DarMpya’s license, forcing the outlet to rebrand but asked the reporter to forward the question via e-mail.
Until the time of writing, however, TCRA hadn’t responded to our question.
To Marwa, his company’s ordeal implies that Tanzania still has a long way to go until media outlets and journalists can operate in a free environment, characterized by less fear and intimidation.
“In Tanzania, press freedom is in the discretion of an individual government officer, not even an institution,” Marwa told The Chanzo in an interview. “We need to continue fighting for freer environment and getting rid of these repressive laws and regulations is a good starting point.”