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The Tanzanian Constitution guarantees every person the freedom of opinion and expression as well as the right to seek, receive and disseminate information. However, the implementation of those constitutional rights is strongly debated and basic freedoms do not exist to an extent, as they should. From 2010 the media industry has witnessed a flourishing number of legislations and regulations in the media sector, some of them enacted as recently as 2018. None of those recent regulation put the issue of media ownership, cross ownership or public disclosure of ownership structure on the agenda. 

The effects of recent developments, amongst others on Access to Information, Content Regulation, Online Registration etc. are strongly debated.

Access to information

The government amended the Constitution to provide for full rights to demand access and disseminate information in 2005. A year later, after the constitutional amendment, the government prepared a draft Bill on Freedom of Information Act, 2006. 

Various media stakeholders, however, were of the view that the Bill did not meet the spirit of the constitutional provisions and could not stand up to meet international best practices: access to information from public institutions and whistleblowers protection was seen to have been down played and given scant attention.

A coalition to Right to Information under Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) was in 2007 and prepared two alternative bills, The Right to Information Bill 2007 and the Media Services Bill 2008, with a view of broadening the scope of freedom of information.

Newspaper Act finally replaced after 40 years

The 1976 Newspaper Act has been criticized for many years as it allowed the Minister of Information to close newspapers, without notice and without appeal – which happened many times. In 1992, the Nyalali Commission, which led to the adoption of multi-party democracy, concluded that the Act was unconstitutional. It should take another two decades before media law moved in that direction.

The legislation was repealed by the Media Service Act, 2016. Think tanks and civil society acknowledged the replacement of the harmful Newspaper Act. However, they still are skeptical whether the 2016 Act presents a “help or hinderance” for a free media landscape. The NGO Twaweza analyzed the bill and stated the following key concerns:

  • The government has full controlover accreditation of journalists and licensing of print media. These measures would have the effect of bringing the profession of journalism entirely within the control of government, severely limiting the ability of newspapers and others to perform their vital watchdog role.
  • Heavy restrictions on media operations, including a requirement that private media should broadcast or publish news as directed by the government and limits on the editorial independence of public media. 
  • Broad definition of defamation.Any statement – even if it is true or an opinion – could theoretically considered defamatory. A statement should be both true and published “for the public benefit”. Presumably, government would be the final judge of what qualifies as being “for public benefit.”
  • Vague set of offences. The sedition clauses go well beyond what is considered normal in a democratic context. 

Regulations for Online Content

One of the most recent pieces of legislation is the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2018, which governs social media, blogs, internet cafes, online content hosts and online forums. The law aims at curbing “moral decadence” caused by social media and the internet. Therequirements apply to Tanzania residents, Tanzanians living outside the country and foreigners residing in Tanzania who run blogs and online forums with contents for consumption by Tanzanians. There are several risks to pluralism, which the MOM legal assessment as well as the NGO Twaweza identified:

  • High registration fees:Under the new law, bloggers as well as online radio and TV websites are required to be licensed by the TCRA and pay necessary fees for them to operate. The initial registration costs between approx. 45 and 90 USD. The annual renewal fees are around 450 USD. This forces smaller outlets to close down as they can’t afford a registration, it increases the entrance barriers to set up a website, and eventually threatens pluralism.
  • Threats to anonymity: Internet cafes will be required to filter access to prohibited content and install surveillance cameras to record and monitor activities inside the café. Internet cafes are required put in place mechanisms 
  • Liability issues: Under the law, social media users are responsible and accountable for the information they publish on a social media - but also Bloggers and internet forums are accountable for all content on their website. This means content providers are required to have in place mechanisms to identify sources of content, and to cooperate with the authorities (including, one assumes, where the authorities want to know a user’s identity). In other words, if the regulations come into effect, for a blogger or forum owner to refuse to collect information on a user’s identity, or to refuse to share that information with the authorities would be a criminal offence. 
  • Severe penalties create a climate of fear:Contravention of these terms is an offence punishable with a fine not less than five million shillings or imprisonment for a term not less than twelve months or both.Again, this may lead to self-censorship.

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