Tanzanian authorities have suspended Kwanza TV, days after accusing it of violating rules for republishing a health alert from the US Embassy stating the risk of contracting Covid-19 in the country remains high.
In a public statement on July 9, Kwanza Broadcasting Limited said it had received with “disbelief the decision of the Content Committee to suspend Kwanza Online TV for 11 months”.
It noted that the suspension follows another one issued in September for six months, which is still in court.
Kwanza says it will appeal the decision because it was not accorded sufficient time to respond and defend itself.
“We want to emphasize that Kwanza TV is not guilty of any offence. Republishing an already published public notice cannot be in and of itself an offence,” the media house said.
The Content Committee accuses the broadcaster of republishing on its Instagram page a “misleading” health alert notice on Covid-19 by the US Embassy on July 1.
It says the notice was full of misinformation, and Kwanza did not seek to verify and seek the right of reply for a balanced story.
“The unpatriotic report risks security, unity and solidarity of the nation as well as the country’s economy,” the committee said in a statement.
The US embassy said, “Despite the opening up of sectors of business and society throughout Tanzania, the risk of contracting COVID-19 through community transmission remains elevated.”
“The Embassy has recommended that U.S. government personnel and their families exercise continued caution in day-to-day activities (e.g., limiting entry of individuals into your home) and take steps to limit potential exposure while outside the home (e.g., wearing a face mask, washing your hands frequently, observing social distancing, and avoiding crowds).”
The Tanzanian government has not released aggregate numbers on Covid-19 cases or deaths since April 29, and media has been gagged on report the situation in the country.
President Pombe Magufuli has since opened up the country, saying coronavirus has been defeated through prayers.
In a June 25 statement, the US embassy raised concerns over a “disconcerting pattern of intimidation toward opposition members, civil society, and media outlets.”
Late last month, the government banned Tanzania Daima, a daily newspaper, allegedly for flouting communication laws.
Information Services department in a statement alleged that the tabloid was banned for publishing several stories with false information.
The stories included one published on its Sunday edition on the number of Tanzanians on anti-retroviral drugs. The headline of the article stated that 67 per cent of Tanzanians are on ARVs.
In October 2017, the newspaper had been banned for 90 days for allegedly publishing false information.
Earlier on June 15, privately-owned Mawio paper was banned for 24 months, with the government suspending both its print edition and online platforms. On April 16, 2020, Tanzania’s communications regulator banned the privately owned Mwananchi newspaper from publishing online for six months and fined it five million Tanzanian shillings ($2,173) for allegedly publishing false news.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority alleged that the newspaper published false and misleading news on its social media platforms on April 13, violating the country’s 2018 online content regulations, according to the notice.
In 2017 alone, at least four newspapers were suspended and shut down.
The unpopular Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, initially published by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), was signed into law in mid-March 2018.
Under the new regulations, bloggers, as well as Tanzanians operating online radio and television streaming services, are required to apply for a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 before they can publish any material online.