Tanzania: Ban on newspapers raises concerns for press freedom

ARTICLE 19 condemns the 24 October 2017 decision to impose aban on the newspaper Tanzania Daima for allegedly spreading “false information”. The daily newspaper was banned from publishing for three months after the publication of an incorrect claim regarding the number of Tanzanians that are taking anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV. They later published an apology for the error on the front page, however this did not prevent the decision.

This closely follows the ban on another weekly newspaper Raia Mwema, which was banned for 90 days over publication of an article critical of President Magafuli’s government. This brings the number of newspaper banned by the government this year alone to four. Other weekly newspapers Mwanahalisi and Mawio were both banned for two years respectively for allegations of inciting violence and tarnishing the president’s image.

“The banning of newspapers is an attack on media freedom in the country and serves to undermine the media’s role as a watchdog in a democratic society. It is a great concern that Tanzania appears to be declining on its commitment to guarantee freedom of the media by resorting to imposing arbitrary bans on media organisationsIssuing bans such as this is also likely to result in self-censorship”, said Henry Maina, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

Press freedom in Tanzania has been deteriorating, and the country was ranked as partly free in the Freedom of the Press report released by the Freedom House in 2017. There has been a worrying rise in the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists and bloggers, and the enactment of restrictive legislation. These restrictive laws include the Cybercrimes Act, which criminalises online defamation, and the Media Services Act, which gives officials broad powers to shut down media organisations and makes the publication of false information an offence. The Act allows the government to ban the publication of any content on public safety and national security grounds, which are too vague to be in line with international human rights standards, and open to abuse.

We urge the government to retract this ban and end its practice of closing media organizations for writing about sensitive or controversial issues. We further urge the reform of the Media Services Act to bring it into line with international standards on freedom of expression.