President Samia Suluhu Hassan, has since assuming office, taken praiseworthy steps towards improving media freedom and the safety of journalists compared to her predecessor, John Magufuli. By lifting the ban on over 100 media platforms for instance, President Hassan has liberated the media space a lot. However, notwithstanding these bold actions, eager excitement that initially began with her pro-media actions is waning due to the slow pace of progress with reforms.
For example, the media stifling laws enacted during the tenure of John Magufuli are still in effect continuously engendering press freedom violations. Only 9 out of 22 proposed areas were accepted during the passage of the Media Services Act which bestows immense powers on the minister responsible for the media and the Director of Information Services Department.
Despite being famed as a more tolerant, pro media government, it was under the Hassan administration that the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ranked Tanzania 143, down from a previous ranking of 123. This is Tanzania’s worst ever decline in the rankings.
Between March 2021 and July 2023, a total of 62 media violations were recorded and reported by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), and the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs (UTPC). Government officials together with the police continue to perpetrate abuses against journalists, including routine coercion for journalists to submit their identity documents, parents, and spousal information, creating an environment of perceived state of surveillance and intimidation.
The disappearance of Azory Gwanda and the murder of Blandina Sembu still continue to remain unsolved mysteries, meaning the perpetrators behind these despicable acts continue to walk free.
President Hassan’s positive actions for press freedom are very welcome, as they potentiate improvement in the environment for press freedom. However, the media requires strong lasting reforms to thrive in. Also, the President of Tanzania should take action to ensure that these reforms which were promised, are carried out.
In this report, the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) highlights the safety issues journalists face in Tanzania and provides recommendations to various stakeholders to improve the situation.