Why is it at all important that media owners are publicly registered? And why should everybody be able to know?
Generally, transparency is the best tool to fight corruption and to shed light on potential or actual conflicts of interests. From a legal perspective, owners need to be traceable in order to hold them and their (media) company accountable, as they are the ones that are liable in court, for example in the case of a libel suit.
Detailed ownership information also allows evaluating actual concentration or monopolization: when owners manage to hide behind complex corporate structures, it becomes hard to assess their overall influence in the media market.
In media, there is another aspect that concerns every citizen. It is important for the individual Tanzanian to know “who is behind media”. Because only if you know, you will be able to understand the motivation, agenda and interests behind a newspaper or broadcasting channel – and you will read the news differently.
What are the current provisions for transparency?
Transparency of ownership of media houses is only guaranteed at the Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA) where the interested members of the public can follow a procedure to request company profiles. Those company profiles should be updated annually – also concerning the structure of the shareholders. BRELA is obliged to remind companies which are not in compliance with their obligation to send their profiles. The Agency is even obliged to take action against those companies, in the extreme case to deregister the company and to open criminal cases against the directors – when they keep on failing to comply with the law.
However, in reality, several company profiles obtained by the MOM team show that they have not been updated for the last 5+ years – without any consequences.
At the TCRA and MAELEZO, procedures for requesting data have not been established: you are depending on the goodwill of the responsible officer.
Where can you get ownership information?
The Tanzanian Communication and Regulation Authority (TCRA) authorizes companies or individuals to run and own a broadcasting - TV or radio – or online outlet. The media company names and in some cases even the shareholders are made available on the TCRA website – however, only for Online Content Providers. Print outlets are registered at MAELEZO, which has no mandate to publish ownership data. All companies, also broadcast companies, have to register at the Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA). Company profiles with names of shareholders, directors, founders etc. are theoretically available after the payment of a fee (22’000TSH/10$).
In 2016 the Parliament enacted the Access to Information law, which allows to request public information, amongst others also ownership information. The law compels information holders to actively publish certain key information as soon as they receive or generate it even though there is no request for such information.
The Media Ownership Monitor did a reality check and evaluated if and how media ownership information is available for the public, as well as how detailed and credible it is. In order to do so, we requested ownership data at Tanzanian Communication and Regulation Authority (TCRA), MAELEZO, and the Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA).