4th newspaper ban adds to Press freedom concerns

John Magufuli

A 90-day ban on a popular Swahili daily in Tanzania — the fourth newspaper to be shut down since June —has prompted concern over press freedom in the East African country.

Journalists and activists urged President John Magufuli on Wednesday to overturn the ban on the Tanzania Daima newspaper, and accused him of undermining the country’s democracy by muzzling the media.

The call came a day after the opposition-leaning paper, which has a daily circulation of 30 000, was shut down for three months. Authorities accused it of continuously spreading “false information” after it published an incorrect claim about the number of Tanzanians taking anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV.

Martin Malera, the paper’s acting managing editor, said the government’s decision was “unfair” and “unlawful”.

“We put an apology on the front page of our paper on Monday, and they still took the decision to ban our paper,” he said. “How can they ban a paper that employs nearly 300 people because of the mistake of one editor or journalist?”

Since Magufuli assumed office in October 2015, several newspapers have been shuttered and two radio stations were temporarily taken off the air.

His government also stopped the live transmission of parliamentary debates shortly after coming to power.

MwanaHalisi, a critical newspaper, was slapped with a two-year ban in September over allegations it incited violence and tarnished Magufuli’s image. That same month, the weekly paper Raia Mwema was shuttered for 90 days after it published an article titled, John Magufuli’s, Presidency is Doomed to Fail.

Authorities in June also suspended the publication of Mawio, a privately owned weekly, for two years after it linked two former presidents to allegations of misconduct in the mining sector.

Neville Meena, a journalist who heads the Editors’ Forum, said the suspension of Tanzania Daima was part of a wider trend of “shrinking democracy” and a “crackdown” on dissent in the country.

“This decision is extreme and undermines media freedom,” Meena said.

“We have never had this many papers banned at one time. We cannot afford to tolerate this situation any more.”

The shutdown of critical media has led journalists to practise self-censorship, he said.  “People are careful not to make the government angry in their writing, because after Tanzania Daima, they don’t know who’s next?”

Hassan Abbasi, director-general of Tanzania’s Information Services, denied allegations of muzzling the press, saying the government had warned Tanzania Daima over “false news” on several occasions before imposing the ban. — Al Jazeera

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