Like many of its East African neighbors,Tanzania has been overwhelmed by the proliferation of pornographic tabloids. Since 1992, when the advent of multiparty politics fostered media liberalization, the number of privately owned newspapers has steadily increased to about 400.
Many of these publications are so-called leisure tabloids, which constantly stretch the boundaries of acceptability in this conservative republic. Gossipy articles filled with sexual innuendo continued to irritate authorities and the public alike during 2002, leading the prime minister’s office to release a four-page statement threatening legal action against any publication that violates “professional ethics.”
The publications, some of which are sold for very little money outside schools, divided the media community. Plagued by government accusations of extortion, blackmail, and bribery, members of the mainstream press continued to distance themselves from “pornographers.” During 2002, the government shuttered nine publications because of pornographic content.
But mainstream journalists were not spared the government’s wrath. The most controversial case involved George Maziku, a correspondent for the Kiswahili-language daily Mwananchi, who was accused of “contempt of Parliament” for an April 7 article alleging that some reforms proposed by the legislature were biased in favor of the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi. Maziku also criticized lawmakers for a bill that would allow them to “entertain” constituents, arguing that such legislation would foster corruption. Police detained and interrogated Maziku, releasing him without charge a few hours later. However, he was threatened with further legal action.
Meanwhile, the Media Council of Tanzania, which comprises academics, businesspeople, and prominent citizens chosen by journalists, continues to mediate between the press and the public. In 2002, the council called for the repeal of several laws that restrict press freedom, including the National Security Act, which essentially gives the government absolute power to define what information can be disclosed to the public, and the Broadcasting Services Act of 1993, which empowers the government to regulate the media.
The council was particularly outspoken on the Maziku case. In July, the director of public prosecutions said that he had “received Parliament’s instructions to sue” Maziku and had forwarded the case to the director of criminal investigations. In response, the council, along with other free-speech defenders, lodged complaints, effectively blocking further prosecution of Maziku by year’s end.