The Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority, which regulates the media, announced on 6 July that it was suspending Kwanza Online TV for 11 months for “generating and disseminating biased, misleading and disruptive content” after it shared a US embassy health alert on Instagram about the Tanzanian’s government’s failure to publish any Covid-19 figures since 29 April. Kwanza Online TV director Maria Sarungi told RSF she would file a legal appeal against the suspension.
Since the virus’s arrival in Tanzania, many people have expressed reservations about President John Magufuli’s claim that the country is free of coronavirus thanks to the prayers of its citizens.
The Tanzanian government is one of the most punitive in Africa towards media and journalists that criticize its handling of the epidemic. Talib Ussi Hamad, a reporter for the Tanzania Daima newspaper, was suspended for six months in April on the government’s orders for referring to a coronavirus patient. The Mwananchi media group’s website licence was withdrawn for six months for publishing a photo of the president apparently violating the social distancing rules. And three pay TV operators – Star Media, Multichoice Tanzania and Azam Digital Broadcast – were fined and ordered to broadcast apologies for carrying a report criticizing the president’s refusal to decree a general lockdown.
“What with arbitrary suspensions of critical media, minimization of the epidemic and the lack of transparency about the public health situation, the Tanzanian government is subjecting the independent media to the usual harassment despite the coronavirus crisis,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “By targeting the freedom to inform, the authorities are putting their own population in danger. If they are poorly informed, Tanzanians are liable to be more exposed. It’s the epidemic that should be combatted, not journalists.”
Kwanza Online TV was already subjected to an arbitrary six-month suspension last September after it broadcast an interview with a government opponent and a documentary about him on the second anniversary of an attempt to murder him in September 2017.
Ranked 118th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Tanzania has fallen a total of 53 places since 2016, more than any other country in the same period.