On July 1, 2020, the World Bank declared Tanzania as a lower middle-income country, coming second after Kenya in the East Africa region.
Despite the good progress on the economic front, there are many challenges in the area of press freedom, freedom of expression, access to information and general respect for human rights, including repression of the civil society sector.
On the same day the World Bank declared Tanzania as lower middle – income country, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the regulator for the electronic media, fined six radio and television stations a total of 30 million Tanzanian shillings (USD 12, 937) for alleged infringement of broadcasting ethics.
According to TCRA Content Committee Vice Chairperson Joseph Mapunda, the punished radio and television stations are East Africa Radio, Clouds FM Radio, Star TV, Sibuka TV, Global Online TV and Duma Online TV.
Duma Online TV was also suspended for two months from publishing any media content. Mr. Mapunda said the media house had violated the communication regulations at different times.
During the past six months from January to June, 2020 the situation of press freedom in Tanzania was difficult, which largely affected journalists and the media industry as a whole.
In addition to that, other acts of infringement of freedom of information and freedom of expression are the latest incident of the closure of Tanzania Daima newspaper.
On June 23 this year, the Tanzania’s Information Services Department, which registers print media, announced that the license for publication and distribution of Tanzania Daima newspaper had been revoked with effect from June 24, 2020.
According to the statement, the publication was accused of breaching the law and professional ethics, and banned its distribution both within and outside Tanzania. The newspaper is associated with the leadership of the main Opposition Party, CHADEMA.
The statement did not cite specific content from the newspaper that was allegedly breached professional ethics nor did it specify which laws the paper was accused of breaking.
The Media Services Act, passed in 2016, gives the government the power to restrict and limit the independence of the media. The Act requires journalists to be accredited by the government.
The law also gives inordinate oversight powers to the Director of Information Services, include the power to arbitrarily suspend or cancel the licenses of newspapers, which is part of a wider pattern of repression targeting freedom of expression over the past few years, including creating an excessively high fee for setting up and running blogs, criminalizing posting certain content online, fining TV stations, and prohibiting the publication of independent statistics without government permission.
Since March 2020, authorities have fined or suspended at least eight media outlets including the famous online content provider, Mwananchi Digital which has been suspended from publishing online content for six months.
Within the same period, at least four journalists have been arrested for various reasons. A report on investigation of increased threats and interference to editorial independence released by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) in 2019, urges individuals, groups, institutions and other actors who were involved in violations against the media to stop immediately for the sake of securing peace and harmony between the media and government.
According to the report, there is deterioration in the working relationship between the media and government, institutions which are ideally expected to work as partners in enhancing the access to information to the public.
The report suggests different measures to be taken by media stakeholders in order to strengthening the relations between media and government institutions. It proposes continuous dialogue and smooth collaboration based on common agenda, interests, national values and respect duties and obligations as opposed to the current situation.
During the past six months from January to June, 2020 journalists in the country have also faced other challenges when they report news stories related to COVID -19 pandemic.
The COVID – 19 pandemics has led to threats and suppression of freedom of expression to the journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders when they report news or take actions in combating the pandemic.
Some of them have found themselves threatened or arrested by state security officers as relates to freedom of information and expression as stipulated in the article 18 of the Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.
Among the press freedom violations issues linked to COVID -19 coverage is the arrest of famous advocates and human right defender Albart Msando, shortly after handing over protective gears including masks to the Arusha Regional Press Club members.
Apart from that, also, there is declining of freedom of assembly and association and increased actions of intimidation for opposition politicians, human rights defenders and the civil society community.
Over the last six months, the nation has witnessed atrocities carried out against opposition party politicians, with the latest example of attacks on Opposition party, CHADEMA Chairperson, Freeman Mbowe in Dodoma region.
On June 23, another opposition party leader, Zitto Kabwe of ACT – Wazalendo, Kilwa South MP, Selemani Bungala and ACT – Wazalendo Lindi region Chairman Isihaka Mchinjita were arrested by the police for holding a demonstration without a permit.
Currently, Tanzanians do not enjoy absolute right to freedom of assembly. The right to assembly is controlled by the police force, which must license any demonstration or public rally. Those who fail to abide by this requirement are intimidated, or brutally attacked by the police.
The shrinking civic space in the country has infringed on democracy as shown in the Zanzibar archipelago recently where Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) cleared four constituencies without involving electoral stakeholders including political parties.
The decision, made on July 2, this year and the ZEC Chairman, named the constituencies as Kijitoupele, Kiwengwa, Chukwani and Mtopepo.
Since president Dr. John Magufuli came to power five years ago there has been a massive repression of democracy and freedom of information and expression in the country, including blocking opposition party meetings while the ruling party CCM continues with its meetings as usual.