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Tanzanian government bans "The East African" for circulating without registration

The home page of The East African's website, whose print version has been banned from circulation in Tanzania.
The home page of The East African's website, whose print version has been banned from circulation in Tanzania.

The East African

This statement was originally published on misa.org on 26 January 2015.

Just when media stakeholders in Tanzania thought that 2015 could be 'media friendly' – especially after the inclusion of progressive articles on access to information and media law in the proposed new constitution – the government has banned one of the most respected weekly newspapers in the region, The East African.

The newspaper was removed from newsstands in Tanzania, 20 years after it was launched to cover the region. In the letter dated 21 January 2015 – sent to Christopher Kidanka, The East African bureau chief in the country – it appears that the decision was taken because the paper has been circulating in the country without registration, contrary to section 6 of the Newspaper Act 1976.

In the very same letter, the paper was directed to – without delay – stop publishing, printing and circulating in Tanzania ''until it has officially been registered by [the] Registrar of Newspaper, Tanzania Information Services''.

According to Kidanka, the company's legal team is currently putting together its records to satisfy the government and make sure the paper is back in newsstands.

Speaking to MISA Tanzania via telephone call, Kidanka said that before the letter was issued, he was on Wednesday summoned and interrogated by the Director of Information Services, Assa Mwambene, who also doubles as the government's spokesman.

When Mwambene was contacted by MISA Tanzania to comment on how the paper could have operated in the country for 20 years without registration, he could not easily pick up his phone. When his office was contacted, it was learnt that he was in a meeting in Mtwara, Southern Tanzania, with editors of all media houses in the country and Information Officers from government institutions and agencies.

In its immediate reaction to the ban, the management of the Nation Media Group, which owns The East African, was quoted in the media describing the move as 'surprising and unwarranted'.

It was reported that the government expressed discontent with the newspaper's reporting and analysis (including the opinion pieces it publishes), and Mwambene accused it of having a negative agenda against Tanzania.

A special reference was made to a recent opinion [piece] that criticised the Dar es Salaam administration's stance on Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in Congo DRC.

There haven't been immediate reactions from media stakeholders in the country so far, but critics say the media should expect anything, especially with the coming elections in October this year and the Constitutional Referendum scheduled for April.

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