Online publications have been tested in Tanzania following the ban on two dailies' news operations.
The Minister of Information Dr. Fenela Mkangara ordered Mwananchi and Mtanzania news groups to cease online publishing, reversing an agreement hammered out between the government and media leaders that would have temporarily banned only the newspapers' hard copy publications.
In addition, Tanzanian media owners, publishers and journalist groups have agreed to a news blackout for key government officials - the Minister of Information and Director of Information - overseeing the press. Media outlets will no longer cover events nor publish statements or pictures relating to either official.
In a meeting on October 9th in Dar es Salaam, the stakeholders agreed in principal that private newspapers, radios and television stations will indefinitely cease to carry any news content, including events, statements or photos, relating to the government duo.
This decision follows the government crackdown on Mwanahalisi, a weekly investigative that banned indefinitely fifteen months ago. Then, 10 days ago, the government moved to restrict Mwananchi and Mtanzania's online activities.
This is the first ban of its kind in the country of 45 million citizens.
The crackdown on Mwananchi and Mtanzania web content was condemned by various sources, including national and international human rights institutions that called the action barbaric and in opposition to the rights of citizens to access information.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the banning of the two newspapers, asking why the draconian action was taken. The government has the opportunity to channel any grievances against the Mwananchi and Mtanzania publications in the Media Council of Tanzania, an ombudsman, rather than summarily suspending the publications.
“We call on authorities to allow the papers to resume publication and to reform the laws that allow these suspensions, which are not in line with international standards of press freedom”, said Tom Rhodes, a CPJ official based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Mwananchi hardcopy publication was also banned for 14 days, which came to an end October 10, while Mtanzania, another widely circulated daily was banned for 90 days.
According to the Government Spokesperson, Assah Mwambene, Mwananchi was ordered to stop publications for allegedly publishing confidential government information and inciting Muslims.
The spokesperson said the paper revealed confidential government information regarding salaries of government "big fish."
Mtanzania was banned for allegedly publishing seditious articles.
Mr. Mwambene ordered Mtanzania to immediately stop publishing the daily Rai newspaper, saying it had not been given permission to do so. Rai was published weekly, but the company began publishing it daily after Mtanzania was banned.
When news outlets step on the toes of the Tanzanian authorities, it is not uncommon for officials to warn media or take more drastic action, such as shuttering media organizations or installing anti-media laws such as the 1976 Newspaper Act. At other times, the government has allowed the Information Minister to ban any media outlet on the pretext of protecting national security