Nairobi, August 31, 2016 - Tanzanian authorities should immediately lift a ban on two privately owned radio stations and allow them to resume broadcasts without further harassment or censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Tanzanian Information Minister Nape Nnauye on August 29 told reporters at a press conference in Dar es Salaam that he had ordered the privately owned stations Radio Five and Magic FM to cease broadcasting immediately. The stations had broadcast "seditious" material that could incite the public and disturb the peace, Nnauye said in a written statement issued on August 29. The stations complied with the order, two Tanzanian journalists told CPJ.
The information minister alleged that Magic FM aired content that had the potential to cause a breakdown in law and order on its August 17 morning show, Morning Magic, and that Radio Five broadcast seditious content on its evening program, Matukio.
"It's difficult to see how a morning radio show could cause a breakdown in law and order, but it's crystal clear that the government is trying to stop the flow of information and commentary," said CPJ East Africa Representative Murithi Mutiga. "We call on the government to allow Radio Five and Magic FM to resume broadcasting immediately, and to stop attempting to silence critical voices."
Nnauye said he had asked the content committee of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority to summon the owners of the stations and to advise him on further steps, The Citizen, an independent daily newspaper, reported.
Neville Meena, secretary of the Tanzania Editors Forum, told CPJ that the stations generally aired music and light talk shows, but that sometimes hosts and callers would discuss political issues. The minister did not specify what statements he deemed as seditious or dangerous to law and order, Meena said.
"We are very concerned by this action," he said by telephone. "The minister presented no evidence, and did not elaborate on what content in the stations he found seditious. This just goes to show that the current government, which has not even been in office for a year, is too sensitive to criticism and is seeking to close the space media enjoyed in the past."
A journalist at one of the stations, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of prejudicing negotiations with the government, also said he did not know what triggered the government's response, but that he suspected it was that many callers to a call-in show criticized a ban on political rallies imposed in June. Police briefly detained Edward Lowassa, President John Pombe Magufuli's main rival in the last election, on August 29 after he and other opposition leaders attempted to stage a demonstration to protest the ban, according to press reports.
Magufuli's government, which came into office in October 2015, has taken a series of steps to restrict Tanzania's media environment. In January 2016, it closed the weekly newspaper Mawio, after it reported on a political crisis in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, where results of elections which the opposition claimed to have won were annulled, CPJ reported at the time.
In April, authorities halted live transmission of parliamentary debates, a vital platform that opposition parliamentarians use to communicate with the public. Another newspaper, Mseto, was closed for three years on August 11 after publishing an article quoting a former minister accusing Magufuli of corruption, according to press reports.
Tanzania government spokesman Hassan Abbas rejected claims that the Magufuli administration sought to muzzle the media.
"You have to look at each issue case by case," he told CPJ by telephone. "The minister followed the law in taking each decision and each of the papers and stations had committed a violation. Journalists need to understand that there are limits to media freedom. You can't just defame a president and get away with it."
Abbas said a decision on the two shuttered stations would be taken when the regulatory committee convened a meeting on the issue, but did not say when this might happen.