NEW YORK, October 1, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a decision by Tanzanian authorities to suspend two leading private Swahili dailies on accusations of sedition. The government issued a statement on Friday suspending Mwananchi and MTanzania for 14 and 90 days respectively.
Tanzanian authorities often rely on an arsenal of anti-media laws such as the 1976 Newspaper Act that allows the Information Ministry wide discretionary powers to ban publications, according to CPJ research.
“The government could have taken their grievances against Mwananchi and MTanzania to the Media Council of Tanzania, an ombudsman, rather than summarily suspending the publications,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to allow the papers to resume publication and to reform the laws that allow these suspensions, which are not in line with international standards of press freedom.”
The statement said that Mwananchi’s suspension was in connection with a story published on July 17, called “New Government Salary Scheme 2013,” which was allegedly based on a classified document. Mwananchi Managing Editor Tido Mhando said the paper had published the article to inform the public, according to news reports.
Bakari Machumu, communications executive editor for Mwananchi, the company that publishes the paper, told CPJ that the paper had received and replied to two letters from the government on August 1 and August 22. On September 5, police summoned Mhando for questioning. Five days later, police also questioned Machumu.
The statement said that the Information Ministry had also taken offense to a second story, published on August 17, called “Muslims Pray Under Heavy Security,” which was accompanied by a picture of a police dog. Authorities said the photograph implied that “the police had taken dogs to Islamic places of worship. This was not true.”
Tanzanian authorities also banned MTanzania, part of the New Habari Publishers company, in connection with articles that alleged police involvement in attacks against citizens and suggested government incompetency in contending with terrorist threats, the statement said. The statement pointed out three articles: “The Bloody Presidency,” published on March 20; “Revolution Cannot Be Avoided,” published on June 12; and “The Government Stinks of Blood,” published on September 18.
The statement said the paper had been warned on multiple occasions to stop publishing “inflammatory content.” The paper’s managing editor, Absalom Kibanda, said in an interview with Cloud FM that New Habari had not been given the opportunity for a hearing to defend the paper before the closure.
New Habari Managing Director, Hussein Bashe, said on Twitter that Mtanzania’sweekly sister paper, Rai, will be published as a daily during the suspension.
Assah Mwambene, Director of Information who wrote the statement, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s calls and messages for comment.
In July 2012, authorities banned the critical weekly Mwanahalisi for a series of articles that accused the government of involvement in a brutal attack against a leader of doctor’s strikes in the country, Managing Editor Saed Kubenea said.
• For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s special report on Tanzania, “The Invisible Plight of the Tanzanian Press.”
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)