Tanzania's Press Wait To See If New President Will Reform Troubling Media Laws

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Representative

Elections in Tanzania passed smoothly in October, but several local journalists and a media lawyer told me the spectre of anti-press laws is casting a pall over critical reporting in the country and that hopes for legal reform under the newly elected President John Pombe Magufuli remain muted.

There were scattered reports of incidents of intimidation against journalists covering the elections. In late July, an official from the Chama Cha Mapinduzi ruling party in the southwest town of Kyela allegedly blocked journalists from covering a meeting and slapped and punched freelance journalist Benson Mwakalinga when he protested the lack of press access, according to human rights group East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. Assah Mwambene, the director of Information Services, did not respond to CPJ's requests for comment.

In September, ruling party officials barred Peter Elias, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Mwananchi, from joining the press entourage following Magufuli, allegedly because of his unfavourable coverage, news reports said .

Officials told Neville Meena, chairman of the Tanzania EditorsForum, that the reporter repeatedly painted the ruling party in a bad light and could not partake in the press group with direct access to their electoral candidate, a decision the guild contested, news reports said .

In comparison to past incidents documented in CPJ's special report on Tanzania in 2013, the authorities allowed the press to do its job. "We can actually partially thank the police for this," said Kajubi Mukajanga, executive secretary of the Media Council ofTanzania ,an independent media regulator. "This time round they showed more restraint allowing a calm atmosphere to prevail."