By: Macy Janine Pamaranglas – Art in Tanzania Intern
In celebration of International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists last November 2, it is vital to encourage States to protect media personnel and “to promote a safe and enabling environment for [them] to perform their work independently and without undue interference”. Journalists are essential to our societies because they motivate freedom of expression and access to information for all citizens.
Freedom of expression refers to one’s ability to express their thoughts, opinions, ideas, emotions, and beliefs about various issues without the fear of being criminalized by the government. In fact, freedom of expression is a right which should be protected. For instance, the First Amendment of the US’ Constitution clearly states that individuals have the right to “freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly”; these freedoms fall under the category of freedom of expression.
Yet, this freedom still remains farfetched in many countries worldwide. Tanzania is a country where this right is not completely exercised. According to Freedom House, “independent journalists and media outlets are subject to harsh repression in Tanzania”. Additionally, the country’s 2016 Media Services Act gives the government the power to control media content as well as the ability to grant licenses of media outlets and journalists.
Press freedom in the country has been decadent particularly under the ruling of former President Magufuli. The latter was nicknamed as “the bulldozer” as he was seen to be an “aggressive” leader. He showed extreme intolerance to political, economic, social, and cultural opposition. Thus, Magufuli’s administration does not consider human rights a top priority. The newspaper, Mawio, was banned after publishing an article related to “Tanzania’s mining industry and attaching pictures of two former presidents to the story”. Consequently, Mawio was banned for 2 years since the newspaper was breaching “national security and public safety”. Moreover, the Tanzanian Communication Regulatory Authority imposed legal sanctions on “three online TV channels” due to their critical content on President Magufuli.
With Magufuli’s rising intolerance to resistance, a legislation was passed to enable the Tanzanian government “to de-register parties and impose harsh sentences of up to a year for those engaged in ‘unauthorized civic education’”. Indeed, the State has a very high control of media ownership, which degrades democracy and sustainable development.
However, the mere suspension of media outlets is not the most alarming situation; the lives of Tanzanian journalists are also at stake. There are various cases where media workers are detained, arbitrarily attacked, and even killed. For example, two journalists were attacked by policemen. Journalist Sitta Tuma was beaten after taking pictures at a political demonstration. Whereas, Sillas Mbise was attacked at a football game.
Therefore, in order to avoid any form of impunity, several journalists and other critics end up adopting self-censorship. Simply put, critical topics are sugarcoated to pass the government’s standards of “ideal” content. Some see this strategy as something that defeats the purpose of press freedom. Some are satisfied as it is a way to deliver information to the people while simultaneously behaving under the government’s rules.
Unfortunately, with the limited freedom of expression, growing self-censorship, and continuous suspension of authentic media outlets, not only does it foster an atmosphere of fear and tension, but it also hinders the exercise of multiple human rights such as children’s rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights etc. Human Rights Watch’s report states that “the media are not covering the activities of these groups of the restrictions placed on them, for fear of government reprisals”.
In conclusion, the Tanzanian government should fully respect freedom of expression and association which includes individuals who are part of the media industry, civil society organizations as well as political opposition. This obligation is in reference to the country’s constitution, international, and regional treaties and conventions.
“As long as I am quiet, I am safe”. Human Rights Watch. (2019, October 28). Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/10/28/long-i-am-quiet-i-am-safe/threats-independent-media-and-civil-society-tanzania
K_port. (2019, December 10). Media Freedom Crisis in Tanzania. Public Media Alliance. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.publicmediaalliance.org/media-freedom-crisis-in-tanzania/
Pekkonen, S. (2022, February 24). Tanzania Press Freedom plunges into unprecedented crisis. International Press Institute. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://ipi.media/tanzania-press-freedom-plunges-into-unprecedented-crisis/
Repression and media censorship in Tanzania under president Magufuli. V. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://v-dem.net/weekly_graph/repression-and-media-censorship-in-tanzania-u
Tanzania: Freedom in the world 2022 country report. Freedom House. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/tanzania/freedom-world/2022
United Nations. (n.d.). International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists. United Nations. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-impunity-crimes-against-journalists
What is freedom of expression? Freedom Forum Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/about/faq/what-is-freedom-of-expression/