The Committee to Project Journalists says a rise in attacks against the press in Tanzania is sowing fear and self-censorship among the media. The group says it has documented 10 attacks over the past year, including the killing of a veteran cameraman by police.
CPJ consultant Tom Rhodes is the author of a new report called The Invisible Plight of the Tanzanian Press. He says Tanzania’s image does not reflect the true state of the media.
“Tanzania routinely gets a positive report card both on press freedom indexes and good governance indexes and others. And you know we’ve had the recent visit from President Obama last month. And yet we’ve seen this trend of deteriorating press freedom conditions on two fronts. We’ve seen [an] increasing number of attacks and threats against the press and this is coupled with a whole series, a whole arsenal of anti-press laws – some of them since independence.”
One of the best known attacks on the press, he said, occurred last year.
“We really started noticing this deteriorating trend back in September 2012 when veteran reporter and cameraman Daudi Mwangosi was killed by police officers in southern Tanzania. While one officer, one junior officer, was actually charged and arrested for the murder, there were many others documented by video evidence, who are also involved and implicated, and they didn’t face any problem,” he said.
Mwangosi was shot while covering an opposition rally. Rhodes said it happened during an altercation with police over the arrest of another journalist.
“Another major one was on the chairman of the editors’ forum. This is Absalom Kibanda. This is back in March where he was brutally attacked – absolutely horrifically tortured. And to this day we have no idea who did it.”
Rhodes said two attackers cut off the top of Kibanda’s right ring finger; pierced his left eye and pried out several teeth and fingernails. Kibanda is back in Tanzania after being treated in South Africa.
“When these prominent journalists are attacked and there isn’t justice served for them it sends a chilling message for the rest of the local press and especially the local press outside of Dar es Salaam. I mean I think that these are some of the hidden victims that we’re seeing here in Tanzania, the reporters, not in the capital, but actually in the rural-base settings,” he said.
Tanzanians primarily speak Swahili. Rhodes said that means news in the country may not receive as much international attention as that in Kenya or Uganda where English is spoken.
“We’re starting actually to see some cracks within the system, within the ruling party, which has been in power since independence. And I don’t think they’re used to the criticism or the dissent within the public. This is always the case, not only in Tanzania, but other countries as well, once the ruling party feels that its hold on power is weakened they start cracking down on the press,” he said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said, “The government should consult with media outlets and journalists to draft and adopt an access-to-information law.” It also calls on Tanzanian officials to repeal all laws that restrict press freedom and lift any suspensions on media outlets.