Media gatekeepers admit increased self-censorship in media
In a cause to support civic space in Tanzania, Legal and Human Rights Centre organised a discussion with editors in Tanzania to ponder about the situation of press freedom and freedom of expression in Tanzania. In a meeting that took place in Dar es Salaam on February 15, 2019 gathering 23 participants from various media outlets, editors raised concerns over mounting pressure against press freedom in the country.
In their presentations, lawyers from LHRC, Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) highlighted causes of shrinking media space in Tanzania including enactment and enforcement of restrictive laws; impunity and double standards exercised by authorities especially in regulating media and threats against media and sources of information that leads to fear of unknown among journalists and sources of information.
In response, media gatekeepers admitted to be suffering the consequences of shrinking civic space which has led to extreme censorship of information. Editors mentioned arbitrary punishments, threats and torture against members of the press to be curtailing the watchdog role of media hence limiting their freedom to search for and report the truth for public interest. Fear of unknown among sources of information especially in the government authorities is another mentioned challenge to be pulling back journalists efforts to conduct investigative journalisms.
“I think it is clear to everyone, not only to us (editors) that the pressure to control media is at its peak in Tanzania, sometimes even our own reporters do not understand what is going on because of the increased censorship in media. There is too much censorship in our media houses because of intimidations and arbitrary punishments from media and content regulators” - said one of participants (editors) during the meeting.
In the same development, editors complained to be suffering from media owner’s syndrome, where they tend to work for survival instead of serving public interests.
“We all here admit that media landscape has changed a lot in Tanzania, the question of shrinking civic space is the causative agent of all this. Unfortunately the pressure from public to fight back the nightmare is not enough hence the media choose to cope with the situation for survival” - commented another editor.
Moving forward, participants of the meeting agreed to devise collaborative strategies to further endeavours to support civic space in Tanzania. One of proposed action plan include continuous trainings to members of the press to enhance their ability to navigate in the situation.
Background on Shrinking Civic Space in Tanzania
The root cause of the outcry over shrinking civic space in Tanzania is traced from the most competitive elections in October 2015 were it raised national and international community concerns in protecting civic space due to passing of the Cyber Crimes Act , 2015 which was practically worse to dissent expressions. From 2015 a series of pieces of legislation followed and tighten other civic platforms which resulted to the shrinking of civic space. These laws include, the Media Services Act, 2016, Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) Act of 2003, Access to Information, 2016, Statistics Act (Amendments) 2018, the Online Contents Regulations, 2017.
In a period of 2016 and 2017, the media have suffered arbitrary punishments including harsh fines because of what has been popularly termed as broadcasting or publishing seditious information. Members of the press have been victims of threats, intimidations, detentions and even torture leading to disappearance and deaths. Physical attacks on media houses and ban of media outlets have triggered fear among media leading to extremely censorship.
Tanzania Human Rights Report 2017 depicts worsening state of media freedom and expression in the country due to arbitrary actions by regulatory authorities and threats to journalists.
The report by the Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019 depicts expansion of the free expression crackdown in 2018, affecting traditional news sources as well as social and online media in Tanzania. In the report, Tanzania scored 7 out of 16 in freedom of expression and belief.