The Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority imposed fines of approximately 2,000 euros on two online TV channels – Kwanza TV, Millard Ayo TVand Watetezi TV– on 27 September and suspended one of them, Kwanza TV, for six months.
Officially, the three online TV channels were punished for failing to publish their editorial policy statement and charter -and for "misleading publication" in Kwanza TV's case- in line with a 2018 online media law that has been widely condemned by press freedom defenders including RSF, which said it would be fatal for Tanzania’s blogosphere and news websites. The law’s draconian provisions include an obligatory registration fee of an average of 900 dollars a year.
However, all three online TV channels are critical of John Magufuli, who has been president since 2015 and is expected to seek reelection in 2020. One of Tanzania’s most influential online media outlets, Kwanza TV broadcast an exclusive interview with Tundu Lissu, a lawyer and government opponent, and a documentary about him at the start of September, marking the second anniversary of an attempt to murder him in September 2017.
Watetezi TV belongs to a coalition of Tanzania human rights defenders and one of its reporters, Joseph Gandye, was detained for two days in August for exposing police violence.
“Silence or persecution seems to be the only alternative for media outlets and journalists that want to exercise a critical role in Tanzania,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “No other country in the world has experienced such a drastic decline in press freedom in the past four years. We urge the Tanzanian authorities to come to their senses and, as a first step, to rescind the sanctions on these three online TV channels and to immediately and unconditionally release Erick Kabendera, who should not be in prison.”
Another hearing is scheduled for tomorrow in Kabendera’s trial, which has been delayed five times at the prosecution’s request to allow further investigation. The charges against Kabendera, The Guardian’s Tanzania correspondent, have already been changed three times and he is currently accused of “economic crimes.”
He was limping during previous court appearances and his health seems to have been badly affected by his imprisonment. RSF continues to call for his release and his transfer to an appropriate centre for medical treatment.
Tanzania is ranked 118th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index after falling 47 places since 2016, more than any other country in the world during the same period.