Tanzanian authorities should immediately annul fines levied against five television stations that the country's regulatory commission accused of broadcasting seditious and unbalanced content, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Saturday.
On January 2, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined the five stations - Star TV, Azam Two, Channel 10, ITV, and East Africa TV - a collective 60 million Tanzanian shillings (US27,000), according to a report by the privately owned The Citizen newspaper and Kajubi Mukajanga, executive secretary of the Media Council of Tanzania, an independent press rights body, the CPJ said in a statement.
The commission's decision came after the stations covered a report by a non-governmental human rights organisation alleging that abuses were committed by security personnel and other unidentified people during the country's November 26 ward by-election, according to media reports, Mukajanga, and a recorded press conference by the authority's contents committee, which regulates broadcast programming. The alleged abuses included abductions and obstructing voters, according to news reports.
"The government is using the broadcasting regulator as proxy for censoring political reporting," CPJ deputy executive director Robert Mahoney said in New York.
"This is deeply disturbing for the future of independent reporting in Tanzania. The authorities must scrap these fines immediately and resist the temptation to use regulation to undermine rights guaranteed by law," he said.
When contacted for comment, TCRA spokesperson Semu Mwakyanjala asked CPJ to email. CPJ sent two emails, on January 9 and 10, and the committee chair Valerie Msoka told CPJ that she had seen the communication on Thursday, but would not be able to respond the same day. On Friday she said she could not respond as it was a national holiday in Tanzania.
The stations had the option of appealing the ruling with Tanzania's Fair Competition Tribunal, a body that heard cases on regulatory and competition issues, Mukajanga told CPJ. Samwel Nyalla, the chief executive officer at Star TV's parent company Sahara Media Group, told CPJ that the station was still reviewing options with its lawyers and had not yet made a decision to appeal.
CPJ could not reach the other four stations for comment via phone calls, email, or text messages despite repeated attempts.
During the January 2 press conference, the TCRA said the five stations' coverage of the human rights report violated the country's 2005 broadcasting services (content) regulations. It alleged that the coverage of the report was inciting and threatened the peace and security of the nation, and that the stations did not properly verify its truthfulness, according to media reports and a recording of the January 2 press conference.
Tanzanian authorities also accused the five stations of airing content that lacked balance by failing to incorporate the opinions of the electoral commission and police in their news stories.
East Africa TV, ITV, and Channel 10 had each been fined 15 million Tanzanian shillings (US6750). Star TV and Azam Two each faced a fine of 7.5 million Tanzanian shillings (US3375) because they apologised for their reporting, according to LHRC executive director Helen Kijo-Bisimba and the recorded press conference.
Nyalla told CPJ that Star TV had admitted to not verifying the truthfulness of the LHRC report and failing to get a comment for the story from government authorities.
Tanzanian authorities said the stations should pay the fines within 30 days of their issue and that they would be observed for six months, Kijo-Bisimba and Mukajanga told CPJ. It was not immediately clear what the observation would entail.
- African News Agency (ANA)