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Broadcasting, policing, human rights and “sedition” in Tanzania

On January 1, 2018, five TV stations were fined by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), which judged that they had breached broadcasting rules. They were judged to have broadcast content deemed to be “seditious, unbalanced and unethical,” in their broadcast of clips from a press conference held by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) to present their report on human rights abuses associated with the by-elections to elect ward councillors in November 2017. The LHRC report included allegations of human rights abuses by the police and by representatives of various political parties. 

This briefing note looks at the relevant laws and regulations, specifically on the matter of sedition, along with other laws and regulations that cover sedition and freedom of speech.

TCRA decision

In the TCRA decision, the television stations were found guilty of contravening the Broadcasting Services (Content) Regulations, 2005, specifically Rules 5(a)(h); 6(2)(b)(c); and 6(3).

Star TV, in particular, was penalised for the following reasons (and the reasons for penalising other stations were not substantively different):

  1. Kutangaza habari ambazo hazikuzingatia maadili ya uandishi, kwa kutochukua hatua ya kuthibisha ukweli na usahihi wa taarifa iliyotolewa na Kituo cha Sheria na Haki za Binadamu, kinyume na kanuni za huduma za utangazaji (maudhui) za mwaka 2005, namba 6(2)(b) na 6(3).

[Broadcasting news that did not reflect principles of journalism, by not taking steps to verify the truth and accuracy or the information provided by LHRC, in contravention of rules 6(2)(b) and 6(3) of the Broadcast Services (Content) Regulations, 2005.]

  1. Kutangaza habari za uchochezi zinazoweza kuhatarisha amani na usalama wa taifa, kinyume na kanuni za huduma za utangazaji za mwaka 2005, namba 5(a) na (h).

[Broadcasting seditious news that can endanger peace and national security, in contravention of rules 5(a) and (h) of the Broadcast Services (Content) Regulations, 2005.]

  1. Kutozingatia maadili ya uandishi kwa kutangaza habari zisizokuwa na mizania, kinyume na kanuni za huduma za utangazaji namba 6(2)(b) na (c), na 6(3).

[Not reflecting the principles of journalism by broadcasting unbalanced news, in contravention of rules 6(2)(b) and 6(3) of the regulations.]

Further, the TCRA statement included a translation of some of the rules listed above, including rule 5(a) and (h).

Broadcasting Services (Content) Regulations, 2005

There is no explicit reference to “sedition” in these regulations. Similarly, “sedition” is not mentioned in the law under which the regulations were established (the Broadcasting Services Act, 1993), the law establishing TCRA (the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority Act, 2003) or the law that made significant changes to TCRA’s mandate (the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, 2010).

However, the rules mentioned above are worth presenting in full, and do touch on similar matters:

5 Every licensee shall ensure that the programme and its presentation:

(a) upholds national sovereignty, national unity, national interest, national security and Tanzania’s economic interests

(h) does not incite or perpetuate hatred against or vilify, any group or persons on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, religion or disability.

6(2) The licensee shall

(b) report accurately and fairly

(c) report news in an objective and balanced manner, without intentional or negligent departure from the facts, whether by distortion, exaggeration, misrepresentation or material omission

(3) Every licensee shall ensure that, during the presentation of current affairs programmes, factual programmes and documentaries, where issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable effort is made, and reasonable opportunity is given, to present a fair, accurate, balanced and impartial view.

Rules 6(2) and (3) relate to accuracy, balance and impartiality in news broadcasts, which are not the main issue of concern here.

Rule 5, however, could be argued to cover seditious content, and indeed the unofficial translation used by TCRA when announcing its decision did include the term “uchochezi” (the usual translation of “sedition”) in its translation of Rule 5(h) above, though the English term is not used.

The TCRA translation of Rule 5(h) is in fact different in substantive ways from the English:

                5(h) Habari zinatakiwa hazileti uchochezi wala kujenga chuki kwa mtu au kundi la watu.

[News broadcasts should not have seditious intent or incite hatred against a person or group of people.]

The TCRA translation thus makes two changes to the rule: i) it introduces the term “uchochezi” / “sedition” into the rule; and ii) it removes the specification that inciting hatred only applies to hatred on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, religion or disability. These are both highly substantive changes that transform the meaning of the rule into something very different from the original (and legally applicable) English version. Further, it is hard to see how the TV stations in question could be argued to be in breach of rule 5(h), as nothing in their reports incites hatred against any of the specified groups.

“Sedition” in the Media Services Act, 2016

Other Tanzanian laws do include explicit references to “sedition”. This includes the Media Services Act, 2016, and the Penal Code, both of which define it at length. There are only minor differences between the definitions in the Media Services Act (article 52) and the Penal Code (article 55), so the text here is taken from the Media Services Act:

                52 (1) A “seditious intention” is an intention to

  1. bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the lawful authority of the Government of the United Republic;
  2. excite any of the inhabitants of the United Republic to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any other matter in the United Republic as by law established;
  3. bring into hatred, contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in the United Republic;
  4. raise discontent or disaffection amongst people or sections of people of the United Republic; or
  5. promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different categories of the population of the United Republic.

(2) An act, speech or publication shall not be deemed as seditious by reason only that it intends to:

  1. show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures; or
  2. point out errors or defects in the Government of the United Republic or Constitution of the United Republic or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to remedying such errors or defects.

(3) In determining whether the intention for which an act was done, any word spoken or any document published, was or was not seditious, every person shall be deemed to intend the consequences which would naturally follow from his conduct at the time and in the circumstances in which he conduct himself.

Further, the Act states in article 57 that “a person shall not be prosecuted for any seditious offence under this Act unless with a written consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

Click here to read the full briefing note. 

Read more: freedom of information media freedom in Tanzania Tanzania

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