Regulation Gone Wrong
The concept of “media regulation” has a questionable connotation in Tanzania. Since independence, regulation always existed in the sense of controlling and curtailing the market, even influencing media content. On the eve of the Arusha Declaration1967 for example, President Nyerere expressed the view that freedom of expression had to be limited in the interests of more important goals since it otherwise could harm the country’s newly adopted policy of Socialism. In this vein, private editors had a difficult time to launch independent newspapers. For decades, the only independent periodicals obtaining the permission to register were religious print media. This suffocating of media only eased when also the political system changed with the introduction of a multiparty system in 1992.
An almost complete lack of safeguards
On the other hand, regulation with the objective of safeguarding healthy, competitive markets, in which a plurality of media outlets openly discusses a plurality of viewpoints, has never existed. Until today, regulatory safeguards that prevent concentration of ownership and monopolies, for example by blocking mergers or acquisitions above a certain threshold, are lacking. In particular, there are
- Almost zero regulatory safeguards against a high concentration ownership in TV, radio, print or internet sectors: relevant provisions of the Constitution do not include any articles or clauses (sector-specific and/or competition law) aimed at preventing media concentration and monopolies. Only a regulation on foreign ownership exists;
- No regulatory safeguards against a high degree of cross-ownership between different media types (press, TV, radio, internet): There is no political or juridical awareness for the phenomenon of cross-media-concentration, effective merger control in the Tanzanian media market is missing;
- Some regulatory safeguards for the provision of media ownership transparency. Media companies register like other companies at the Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA) where they have to annually state changes in ownership structure. However, compliance, and the enforcement of existing laws or provisions is low which leads to low levels of transparency.
Lobby action against cross-media regulation
In 2001, media and civil society stakeholders – amongst others MCT - recommended legal action regarding cross-ownership and also on media concentration. These were among 18 proposals that were meant as a consultation in a Government-led policy formulation process. Only 3 proposals were refused to be included: the proposal on cross-ownership / media concentration, the one turning state-owned media companies into public entities and on promoting gender equality in media.
In 2009, the Government finally reacted. In the meantime, some media houses, like IPP Media, had seized the chance to invest in the media and to expand quickly, taking advantage out of the lack of regulation. Faced with this development, the Government proposed some amendments to the Information and Broadcasting Policy to regulate cross-media ownership: media owners should be obliged to opt either for electronic or print media. For those already owning both, the draft policy proposed that they should decide for one sector over the time span of five years. The Government’s official reason for this policy proposition on media ownership was to prevent media owners from using their outlets in favor of their business and political interests.
IPP Media felt unfairly targeted, and in general media owners naturally opposed the proposal. The Government however went ahead with its draft - but in an intransparent manner. Some media stakeholders were listed as participants in meetings during which the amendments were drafted - while they were not even aware that the meeting had taken place. Unsatisfied with the procedure and its content, media stakeholders stepped up their opposition to the policy proposal and eventually, under this headwind, the draft amendment was dropped .
Instead: online content regulation shies away independent voices
Currently, there are no plans to fill the regulatory gaps mentioned above. Instead, Tanzania has recently signed into law its eyebrow raising new regulation that governs social media and blogging. This law, known as the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, came into effect in March 2018. Among some changes is a license fee to be charged to Tanzanians operating online radio stations and video (TV) websites. This creates significant entry barriers for potential new market entrants as well as drives existing one out of business and thus, contravenes online plurality.
Sources and related laws