The United Republic of Tanzania is a Union of two former sovereign states – Republic of Tanganyika and People’s Republic of Zanzibar – that came into effect on April 26, 1964. The Union was first named United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar until a few days later, on April 29, it was officially renamed the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania mainland had become independent on December 9, 1961 under Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which spearheaded the struggle for independence, while Zanzibar had achieved its independence from direct British rule on December 10, 1963 under an Arab Sultan. However, a popular revolution only one month later, on January 12, 1964, overthrew the Sultan and rendered power to the African majority under the Afro-Shiraz Party (ASP). on February 5, 1977, TANU and ASP voluntarily dissolved themselves and merged to form Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
A framework of contradictions
“Media for the people” - Instruments of public service
However since February 5, 1967, following the adoption of the Arusha Declaration, the main duty of mass media was to promote this blueprint of socialism and self-reliance, supporting efforts of TANU and its government to fully align the people with its policy. The state’s control over media was stepped up on February 5, 1970 by nationalising The Standard Newspaper. On that day, President Nyerere wrote the first editorial that became known as the President’s Charter and was entitled “A socialist paper for the people.” Although this Charter focused on one specific newspaper, the principles laid down and the guidelines given became understood as a general media policy referring to all mass media in the country.
According to the Charter, media were considered an instrument of public service; they would support socialist ideology of Tanzania as defined in the Arusha Declaration; they would maintain open and free public debate and constructive criticism of the government and the party; they would be free to criticise the implementation of agreed policies; they would provide a two-way communication between the government and the people; and would be professionally committed to truth. However, critics of the Charter argued that in reality the new media policy contained in the Charter was geared to make the media responsive and responsible only to those in power, at any cost.
One-party-system, one coverage
After the Arusha Declaration media in the country simply became the mouth-piece of the party and its government, because they were more often used by the party and its government to reach out the people than – as stipulated by the Charter – also the other way around. Media identified itself with the people’s aspirations only to a very limited extent while serving the interests of the state party, even becoming a conveyor belt of the state party elites against the majority of people. Media were centrally controlled through laws such as National Security Act (1970) and the Newspapers Act (1976) among others; and mechanism such as the Party’s Mass Media Committee and the indoctrination of journalists through forced attendance of the Party’s ideological colleges, thus turning them party members and some of them civil servants.
Veteran journalist and former Director of Radio Tanzania, Ng’wanakilala provided a realistic conclusion of the media situation in Tanzania during the one-party system, when he wrote at the beginning of the 1980ies: “It is fair to conclude that in a situation where the party and government serve their own interests while at the same time claiming to be serving the people, and while the media are state owned, the media will consciously and unconsciously provide the necessary cover-up and protection, again, in the name of the people. Therefore, where the media are influenced by the party and government leaders and where the development of mass media is ignored, the media then will be an instrument of oppression, apart from being oppressed themselves.”
After 1992: variety and divergence
Political reforms that Tanzania initiated in 1992 and media deregulation that followed thereafter called for a different media regime in the country that would ensure more freedom for the media. As a result, a sudden mushrooming of media outlets was observed and within a short time, the country found itself awash in newspapers, radio and television stations that markedly changed the way the Tanzanian public is informed until the present day. It was no longer possible to put a lid on information by making sure that the state controlled media does not report it. Suddenly, there was so much variety and divergence of opinion in the different media outlets, that the government’s viewpoint was just one of the many on display and the public had the opportunity to gauge what it read, watched and listened to. In this way, media played a major role in raising the awareness of Tanzanians concerning many issues of both public and national interests.
Wind of change, again...
However, the marked increase in media freedom is now under siege, following the enactment and implementation of restrictive laws and government decisions since the fifth phase administration came into power in November 2015.