The EastAfrican newspaper has been banned from circulation in Tanzania, 20 years after it was launched to cover the region.
According to a letter sent to The EastAfrican bureau chief in Tanzania, the decision was ostensibly taken because the paper “has been circulating in the country without being properly registered, contrary to section 6 of the Newspaper Act number 3 of 1976.”
The management of the Nation Media Group, which owns The EastAfrican, described the move as surprising and unwarranted.
The letter dated January 21, 2015 directs an immediate stop to publishing, printing and circulating in Tanzania ‘’until it has officially been registered by Registrar of Newspapers, Tanzania Information Services.’.
Before the letter was issued, the newspaper’s bureau chief, Christopher Kidanka, was on Wednesday summoned and interrogated by the Director of Information Services, who also doubles as the government’s spokesman, Assa Mwambene.
During the session, the government expressed discontent with the newspaper’s reporting and analysis (including the opinion pieces it publishes).
Mr Mwambene accused it of having a negative agenda against Tanzania. He singled out a recent opinion that criticised the Dar es Salaam administration’s stance on FDLR rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo as a case in point.
Mr Mwambene also took exception to the cartoon in last week’s issue of the paper, which he said demonstrated bad taste and disrespect to the person and office of the president. As a result, The EastAfrican will not be circulated in Tanzania until the legal issues are settled.
Commenting on the decision by the government, NMG chairman Wilfred Kiboro said the reason given by the government was surprising because the newspaper has been circulating in the country for 20 years.
“Surely they can’t just wake up now and declare us illegal. If it were an issue of regularising files, that would not require such a draconian measure of banning a newspaper,” he said.
He said that the real reason “lies elsewhere” and can only be related to the firm stand that the newspaper and its other publications have taken on reporting on corruption, pilferage and inadequate delivery of services to the people of East Africa.
“Last year, the same government shut down our other publication — Mwananchi — for two weeks for reasons that have never been made clear,” he said. “We can only assume that this decision is in the same vein. Such unfair and undemocratic actions are what undermines our governments’ claims to being democratic, believing in press freedom and pro-business.”
Mr Kiboro added that the group’s editorial policies were explicit on independence and they would continue to guide the newspaper’s reporting at all times.
He said that he hoped that the Tanzania government, in keeping with its avowed commitment to a free press and support for democratic ideals, will speedily allow The EastAfrican back into circulation.
The NMG, through its subsidiary Mwananchi Communications Ltd, also publishes the Mwananchi, the Citizen and the Mwanaspoti newspapers in Tanzania.