Tanzania: Communications Regulator fines TV stations for broadcasting “seditious” content

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the latest attack on media freedom in Tanzania, where five TV stations, Star TV, Azam Two, Channel 10, ITV, and East Africa TV, were given large fines for supposedly reporting “seditious” content and misinformation. The stations were each fined between 7.5 and 15 million Tanzanian shillings (USD 3,375 – 6,750) for covering a report by the Legal Human Rights Center (LHRC) on human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security forces during the November 2017 ward by-elections. Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) Committee Chairman Joseph Mapunda said that they broadcast the information “without confirming the other side”.

The fines were reportedly brought under Sections 5 (a) and (b) and 6 (2) and (3) of the Broadcasting Act, which concern issues of national values and national security, as well as the accuracy and balanced nature of broadcasts. These provisions are extremely broad, allowing for arbitrary interpretation such as this to punish criticism of the government.

“These fines are clearly aimed at quashing criticism of the government and security forces and muzzling reporting on human rights violations, and will have a chilling effect on other media outlets. The fines are also intended to undermine the credibility of media and civil society in the eyes of the public, by accusing them of false reporting,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

The move also highlights the risks posed by similar legislation, which can be used by the government to suppress independent reporting which is critical of government actions. The Statistics Act 2015 introduced uncertainty in terms of who is allowed to generate statistics and what authorisation is required. The Act appears to require those producing or publishing statistics to get prior approval from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) – giving them authority to block reports they don’t agree with.

We remind the government and other aggrieved parties that the right to reply and the use of corrections with regard to media coverage is the appropriate mechanism to deal with such disputes, before resorting to such high handed and disproportionate means, which violate freedom of expression guaranteed under Articles 18 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, Article 9 of the Banjul Charter, and Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Reporting on human rights violations is a public interest matter and does not border on coverage of seditious content by all regionally and internationally recognized standards.” added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa calls on Tanzanian authorities to drop the fines against all five TV stations and revise Sections 5 and 6 of the Broadcasting Act in line with international standards to prevent arbitrary application of the law and protect media freedom. We further urge the government to prioritize the protection, enhancement, and fulfillment of the freedom of expression and media freedoms in the constitutional review process.