Dar es Salaam. Wasafi FM, one of Tanzania’s most popular radio stations, came under fire on Wednesday after cancelling a much-anticipated interview with the deputy national chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) of the opposition CHADEMA without providing satisfying explanations to its listeners and the party’s members and followers.
Mr Lissu, an opposition figure commanding much respect and followership in the East African nation, was due to appear on Wasafi FM’s morning show, Good Morning, which airs every weekday from 5 AM to 8 AM, according to a poster shared online on Tuesday advertising the interview. The poster didn’t say what topics the interview would cover.
But in an interesting turn of events, the show hosts informed Mr Lissu late Tuesday evening, citing an unspecified “order from above” as a reason that led to such a decision, Mr Lissu revealed during a brief interview with journalists outside Wasafi FM’s premises in Mbezi Beach, Dar es Salaam, where he had gone to seek further clarification on the matter.
“I spoke with the managers of the station, who assured me that the show was not cancelled following an ‘order from above’ as claimed earlier, blaming the unfortunate outcome on miscommunications among the show’s hosts and the management on how best to organise the show to make it perfect,” Mr Lissu told journalists.
“After being thus briefed, I informed the management that I had no reason whatsoever to doubt their explanations, and we agreed to conduct the interview once a proper organisation has been put in place,” added Mr Lissu, CHADEMA’s presidential candidate during the 2020 elections.
Wasafi’s management has not clarified publicly on the controversy, and The Chanzo’s efforts to get managers’ comments did not succeed.
Nelson Kisanga, programs director with Wasafi Media, confirmed Mr Lissu’s explanations during an interview with The Chanzo, saying that there were no proper organisation that would allow the radio station to conduct the interview as creatively as possible, forcing them to cancel it.
“There is no other reason, personal or political, that influenced the decision,” Mr Kisanga said. “We try to be fair to all political parties without any favour or discrimination. We agreed with Mr Lissu and CHADEMA that we’ll conduct the interview next week when proper and sufficient organisation has been done.”
According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Wasafi Media, which owns Wasafi FM and Wasafi TV is owned by three people, which include Bongo Flava artist Diamond Platinumz, who owns 45 per cent stake in the company. Others are Juhayna Zaghalulu Ajmy (53 per cent) and Ali Khatib Dai (two per cent).
The phrase ‘order from above’ was commonly used by almost everyone during the previous administration of John Magufuli as an excuse to engage in undemocratic and unlawful practices against people deemed critical of the government.
Members of Tanzania’s security organs would use the phrase when unlawfully arresting a perceived critic of the administration or preventing a meeting that authorities do not approve of. Media outlets also used the phrase to cancel shows with people they considered ‘controversial.’
This history made Mr Lissu wondering on Tuesday, after receiving an invitation to participate in the Good Morning show of Wasafi FM, if the radio station could have the muscles to conduct an interview with him, the firebrand opposition figure admitted Wednesday.
“I was slightly worried if the interview could actually go ahead given the past experiences,” Mr Lissu revealed. “Our news media went through tough times in the past few years which made it nearly impossible to interview opposition politicians. But I decided to give [Wasafi FM] the benefit of the doubt.”
This is not the first time that a popular media outlet cancels an interview with senior opposition figures in the country under unclear reasons. For example, on March 28, 2019, CLOUDS TV, another popular TV station in Tanzania, cancelled on last minute an interview with the late Seif Sharif Hamad, then national chairperson of opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, citing “circumstances beyond our control.”
The decision caused an uproar online, with many accusing media organisations of lacking the freedom and independent they need to operate as the Fourth Estate, as the press is collectively called.
The Minister for Information,Communication, and Information Technology, Nape Nnauye has denied the allegations that the government prevented the interview.
“The incident that occurred today has saddened us, and the notion that there are directives from higher authorities interfering with the media has also saddened us,” said Nnauye, who is also the Member of Parliament for the Mtama constituency under the ruling party CCM.
“President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s steadfast commitment to enhancing press freedom and strengthening democracy in our country remains firm and unchanged. Her government has no intention of infringing on the freedom of the media.”
“I want to urge journalists to fulfill their duties by following the law. The government has no plans to interfere with the freedom of journalists as they carry out their responsibilities,” emphasized Mr.Nnauye.
Tanzania has been fairing badly on international press freedom indexes especially due to the presence of repressive media laws and regulations and the state’s interference in journalists’ works.
But the coming to power by President Samia Suluhu Hassan signaled hope that press freedom would improve in Tanzania thanks to measures her administration has so far taken.
For example, Samia lifted a ban that was previously imposed on several media outlets, telling Tanzanians that muzzling press freedom is not among her top priorities. She also amended the controversial Media Services Act of 2016 following discussions with key stakeholders.
While legal and regulatory frameworks generally remain unfriendly to media organisations and journalists, most stakeholders agree that the situation under President Samia is better than the one she found, which saw frequent suspension of newspapers, prosecution of journalists and even forced disappearnce of journalists.
This relief notwithstanding, stakeholders have been urging the government to amend existing laws and regulations to align them with international best practices on press freedom, including by emphasing on the issue of self-regulation.
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at email@example.com.