Freedom of the Press 2016 - Tanzania

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
PFS Score: 
Political Environment: 
Economic Environment: 


A wide range of restrictive laws allow authorities to exert pressure on journalists in Tanzania, and the risk of prosecution encourages self-censorship. The media landscape is diverse, but deeply polarized along political lines. Control of the media is mostly concentrated in the hands of a few proprietors, including the government, which reportedly withholds advertising contracts from critical outlets.


Key Developments:

  • In the spring, the government adopted two laws—the Statistics Act and the Cybercrimes Act—that were widely viewed as tools to rein in critical reporting ahead of October’s general elections.
  • In June, the government issued guidelines for online content providers mandating, among other things, that they provide a right of reply to aggrieved parties, and edit controversial user comments and online discussions.
  • The media landscape became increasingly polarized during the election campaign.
  • It remained to be seen whether John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party—the winner of the October presidential election—would take action to reform Tanzania’s restrictive media laws.


Legal Environment: 18 / 30

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but numerous laws encourage self-censorship and limit the ability of the media to function effectively. The most notorious and widely enforced of these laws is the 1976 Newspaper Registration Act, which empowers authorities to ban publications “in the interest of peace and good order.” In January 2015, authorities used the act to suspend publication of the weekly East African newspaper, alleging that its license had lapsed. The suspension remained in place throughout the year. Another restrictive law, the National Security Act, allows the government to take action against any piece of journalism that touches on information it considers classified.

Two pieces of legislation restricting press freedom in Tanzania became law in 2015. In March, parliament passed the Statistics Act, which imposes criminal penalties—including prison terms and high fines—for the publication of any statistical information without prior authorization from the National Bureau of Statistics, and for publishing “false” statistics. In April, parliament passed the Cybercrimes Act, which provides for prison terms and fines for several online activities, including the publication of false information and insulting or inflammatory rhetoric. Rights advocates pointed out the great potential for authorities to abuse the law to persecute government critics. At least three people were charged under the Cybercrimes Act in October 2015, including a university student over a Facebook post alleging that Tanzania’s top military commander had been hospitalized.

A long-discussed Media Services Bill, which would replace the 1976 Tanzania News Agency Act and the restrictive Newspaper Registration Act, was again put on hold in mid-2015 after pressure from civil society and media advocates. Critics noted that the bill as currently drafted would worsen the climate for free expression in the country, placing onerous and unnecessary regulations on media outlets.

Libel is a criminal offense that carries heavy fines, and officials have also used civil libel suits to weaken cash-strapped media houses.

Tanzania does not have a law guaranteeing access to information. A draft access to information bill was submitted to parliament in 2015, but was withdrawn in June pending further consultation with media and civil society groups. Critics noted substantial deficiencies in the draft, including that information obtained through its procedures could not be for “public use” and that the publication of such information would be a criminal offense subject to jail time. Meanwhile, a number of current Tanzanian laws, such as the Civil Service Act and the Public Leadership Code of Ethics Act, block access to information by placing legal restrictions on the ability of public officials to provide certain information to the media.

The 2003 Tanzania Communications Regulatory Act established the framework for the regulation of Tanzania’s broadcast and electronic media. It established the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), a nominally independent agency, which is charged with issuing broadcast licenses and legal monitoring, and can close stations at will. There is concern that the TCRA may be subject to government influence. The board chairman and vice chairman are both appointed by the president, while the director general and four board members are chosen by the communications minister. The independent Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) was established by media groups in 1995 as an alternative to government regulation.

Legal conditions for the press in the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago remain more restrictive than on the mainland. There, the private media generally avoid criticizing the leadership, as implicating Zanzibar lawmakers in criminal activities can result in a minimum fine of approximately $200 or three years’ imprisonment, according to the semiautonomous region’s defamation laws. The laws are rarely used to imprison journalists, but authorities have revoked journalists’ permits as a means of silencing criticism.


Political Environment: 22 / 40 (↓1)

Media outlets in Tanzania express a wide range of views. However, the media landscape is polarized along political lines, and partisanship among outlets intensified during the run-up to the October 2015 elections. Journalists in Tanzania often encounter pressure from editors and media owners seeking to protect their political interests.

There is no prior censorship by national authorities. However, in June 2015, authorities promulgated new guidelines for blogs and other online content providers in advance of the elections. Under the rules, online media are required to register with the TCRA, take steps to ensure balanced election coverage, edit controversial user comments and online discussions, and give the right to reply to aggrieved parties and candidates.

 The increasing number of restrictive laws and content restrictions—including broadly worded provisions within the Statistics Act and the Cybercrimes Act—has put pressure on journalists to practice self-censorship to avoid running afoul of the law.

In Zanzibar, authorities still largely control the content of the national radio and television broadcasts that the islands receive. There have been reports that such broadcasts are aired on a delay, in order to permit censorship by Zanzibari officials. The state-owned Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) largely reports along progovernment lines. Cable television and private local radio stations are given more leeway than mainland media; articles from mainland dailies criticizing the Zanzibari government are often read on the air. Opposition politicians have access to state media outlets.          

Physical attacks and threats against journalists in Tanzania decreased during 2015. However, there were isolated reports of minor incidents during the election campaign period. In July, a CCM party official blocked several journalists from covering a party meeting in Kyela, and assaulted one who complained about the exclusion. In September, ruling party officials again barred certain reporters from accessing CCM presidential candidate Magufuli due to their past critical coverage of the party.


Economic Environment: 15 / 30

There are numerous media outlets in Tanzania, including dozens of daily and weekly newspapers. According to the TCRA, there are more than 100 licensed radio stations and 26 licensed television stations; only a small percentage of the population has access to television due to high costs. Internet penetration in Tanzania continues to increase but remains low, at just above 5 percent in 2015. Social-media outlets and online forums have grown in popularity in recent years. Foreign media content is freely available in Tanzania.

In Zanzibar, 3 cable television stations and 20 local, private radio stations compete with the ZBC. The government publishes the only daily newspaper, Zanzibar Leo. The majority of Zanzibaris depend on newspapers from the mainland. Residents can also receive private broadcasts from the mainland.

Private individuals and companies, the government, and nongovernmental organizations are the main media owners, but control is concentrated in the hands of a few proprietors. A handful of radio stations have national reach, including state-run Radio Tanzania and privately owned Radio One, Radio Free Africa, Radio Uhuru, and the youth-oriented Cloud FM. Some national radio stations are seen as sympathetic to the ruling CCM, while others favor the opposition.

The government reportedly continues to withhold advertising from critical newspapers and websites, especially those that favor the opposition. Private firms that are keen to remain on good terms with the government allegedly follow suit, making it difficult for critical media outlets to remain financially viable.