Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is seen on July 12, 2013. Tanzanian authorities recently banned one online TV station and fined two others. (Reuters/Andrew Emmanuel)
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is seen on July 12, 2013. Tanzanian authorities recently banned one online TV station and fined two others. (Reuters/Andrew Emmanuel)

Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others

On September 27, 2019, Tanzania’s broadcasting regulator suspended the privately owned internet-based broadcaster Kwanza Online TV for six months and fined two other online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV, according to statements by Kwanza Online TV and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, a network of local nongovernmental organizations, which owns Watetezi TV.

The Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority, through its Content Committee, accused the three stations of contravening Tanzania’s online content regulations by failing to publish user policies and guidelines, according to the two statements and media reports. The Content Committee also accused Kwanza Online TV of airing misleading information, according to the station’s statement.

The committee ordered Kwanza Online TV to suspend its broadcasts for six months, according to the station’s statement. Watetezi TV and Ayo TV were each fined five million Tanzanian shillings ($2,175), according to the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition statement.

Kwanza Online TV appealed the suspension at Tanzania’s Fair Competition Tribunal, and was rejected in November 2019; the station has asked the tribunal to grant more time to file a new appeal, according to Ben Ishabakaki, Kwanza Online TV’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

The three stations disputed that they had violated the user policy regulation, saying that the law did not explicitly require them to publish such policies, and that the documents could be made available to users on request, according to the statements by Kwanza Online TV and the coalition. The coalition statement also pointed out that the stations also published their content on YouTube, which has its own user agreement.

A hearing date for Watetezi TV’s appeal is expected to be set during a January 15, 2020, session of the tribunal, according to the station’s lawyer, Bertha Nanyaro, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. The station has not paid the fine pending its appeal, Nanyaro said.

CPJ emailed Ayo TV for comment but did not receive a response. CPJ could not determine whether the station planned to appeal its ruling or if it had paid its fine.

In issuing its suspension, the regulator alleged that a Kwanza Online TV report aired in September 2019 incorrectly referred to Dorothy Gwajima, a senior civil servant in the Office of the President, as “Dr. Gwajima” rather than by her full name, and mischaracterized an incident involving her, according to the Kwanza Online TV statement and media reports. The regulator argued that the report could have been misconstrued as referring to Bishop Josephat Gwajima, a Tanzanian pastor, according to those reports.

Kwanza Online TV said that it had not received any complaints in connection to the report and disputed that the station had improperly identified Gwajima, according to the broadcaster’s statement.

CPJ emailed the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority on January 2 for comment. In a January 3 telephone call, the authority’s spokesperson, Semu Mwakyanjala, requested three working days to provide a response. CPJ sent follow-up emails and text messages, and called Mwakyanjala, but had not received any response by January 8.

The Fair Competition Tribunal did not respond to phone calls or emails from CPJ for comment.

Tanzania’s online content regulations have also been used to force the operators of forums, blogs, and streaming services to pay high registration fees, prevent their users from operating anonymously, and comply with other strict policies or face legal prosecution, according to CPJ reporting.