Political affiliations of media owners and companies are quite in the open in Tanzania. The government is the longest standing and one of the biggest media owners for both broadcast and print outlets. The ruling party CCM holds a media house as well. Well-known political figures are involved in the operation of media outlets – and there is little public discussion about it.
Political affiliation means that the media outlet or company belongs to a party, a partisan group, a party leader or a clearly partisan person. Active political involvement and commitments may give rise to conflicts of interest for people who are involved in program making or have any editorial responsibilities, especially if they deal with topics related to current affairs, politics or public policy.
This does not mean that every political affiliation automatically directly affects media content – but there is an eleveated risk, especially when it comes to sensitive topics or during times of heated political debate or elections, that coverage could be biased.
What are conflict of interests and why is it relevant?
Three aspects are decisive:
- What level or type of political involvement? There is a difference between passive membership, being candidate for a party, holding a public office, and to publicly speak or write on matters of political controversy;
- Media workers: what is the individual's job? Politically affiliated editors for news and current affairs programmes are most prone to conflict of interests. For other types of content, including lifestyle, entertainment, and special interests - like sports, cars or cooking, conflicts of political interests might obviously be less relevant (while there is a whole range of other potential risks of conflicts of interests in these areas too, of course);
- Media Owners: what is the actual involvement in editorial policy, editorial decision making, programme scheduling or the overall policy of the outlet ? While the need for impartiality of those actively working in journalism or in other sensitive editorial positions is imminent, the engagement of media owners in programme or editorial policy can vary. In principle, a 'Chinese Wall' between the newsroom and the boardroom can facilitate the independence of content production from the owner's political stakes and interests.
What are the legal provisions in Tanzania?
No law bars any Tanzanian individual, including people with political affiliations, from legally running a media outlet. There are no regulatory plans to address this issue.
Political affiliations of Tanzanian media
Out of the media outlets investigated in MOM, a third has either shareholders with political affiliations or is state-owned directly. Looking at the media companies, amongst the 21 analyzed companies we identified five of them with politically affiliated owners or state-ownership: Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, Tanzania Standard Newspaper, Free Media Limited, New Habari (2006), and Uhuru Media Limited. While the absolute might seem concerning, the risk caused by political control over media through ownership is at a manageable level. The affected media outlets are less popular with the audience, which lowers their potential influence on public opinion.
Overall, political affiliations in Tanzania are not hidden, but not much debated either.
- Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), Tanzania Standard Newspaper (TSN): state-owned
- Uhuru Publication Limited: owned by the ruling party CCM
- Free Media Limited: majority shareholder is Dr. Lilian Mtei, daughter to the CHADEMA founder and wife to CHADEMA Chairman Freeman Mbowe.
- Sahara Media Group Limited: associated with Dr. Anthony Diallo, who today is the Mwanza Regional Party Chairman of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM). He was a Member of Parliament representing Ilemela constituency in Mwanza from 1995 to October 2010, when he lost to the opposition. He had served in different capacities in the cabinet from 2000 to 2008. He served as Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Deputy Minister for Water and Livestock and Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.
- New Habari (2006) Limited: Rostam Aziz was high-ranking CCM-official but resigned from all his official positions until today. He was still in office when he founded Mwananchi Communication Limited (MCL) together with former Ambassador Ferdinand Kamuntu. They both sold MCL in 2014.
Especially during election campaigns, political tendencies of media houses become evident. MCT’s report “Watching the Watchdogs” shed some light on the dynamics of political reporting during the general election in 2015. The report shows a polarization of the media between those supporting the opposition and those supporting the ruling party, related to their ownership.
Accordingly, the state and ruling party, CCM, owned media went out of their way in support of the government and their party’s candidates. Overall, CCM also received higher coverage in the electronic media compared to the opposition parties. Embedded journalists in campaign teams of presidential candidates produced rather PR communiqués than independent and objective reporting. By contrast, privately owned electronic media outlets remained generally impartial, except for Star TV and RFA of the Sahara Media Group – associated with Dr. Anthony Diallo, CCM Member of Parliament.
The report also found that New Habari (2006) Ltd. and its newspapers Mtanzania, Rai, Dimba, and The African supported the opposition. This was surprising, as New Habari had supported the ruling party and its government in the previous elections. A Background story could explain this sudden change: New Habari’s owner Rostam Aziz, a former high-ranking politician of the ruling party, became a close associate of opposition candidate Edward Lowassa. Lowassa, in turn, had been axed from the presidential nomination race of the ruling party hence he swapped sides and became the presidential candidate for the opposition. Following suit, New Habari (2006) Ltd. became “pro-change”, supporting Lowassa.