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    Tanzania trims back president’s order to reopen media outlets

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    Vendors arrange copies of newspapers following the death of Tanzania's President John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam, March 18, 2021

    Vendors arrange copies of newspapers following the death of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam, March 18, 2021

    Earlier this week, new Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced that media outlets shut down under her predecessor could reopen. But the chief government spokesman said Wednesday that Suluhu was only referring to online television. Journalists are confused and not happy with the new administration.

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    This week, Tanzanian journalists applauded an announcement from President Suluhu that media organizations suspended under the late president John Magufuli would be allowed to reopen.

    But a day later the mood has changed, as the newly appointed government spokesperson clarified that Suluhu’s announcement applied only to online television outlets.

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    Neville Meena, secretary of the Tanzania Editors Forum said it appears that the ministry of Information is disobeying the president’s order.

    “He said that earlier, in his press release about the president’s event, the government spokesperson wrote that among the directives that the president made was to reopen all suspended media outlets. Later he comes out and reversed what he has written. In my opinion,” Meena said, “this contradiction was created by the same people who were there in the ministry of Information for a long time under the leadership of the late John Magufuli.”

    He said these are the same people who participated in denying licenses to media outlets. Issa Mbura an assistant lecturer in the school of journalism at the University of Dar es Salaam said, “the first question I asked myself was that what do we fear? Why were the statement and the order given out by the person in the top position later being clarified by someone with a lower position?”

    Information minister Innocent Bashungwa said the government is willing to meet with owners of still-suspended media outlets and discuss the path to reopening.

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    Bashungwa said if there are case by case situations with other media outlets, they should go to his office to discuss the issue. He said, “if there is another media outlet that wants to reopen besides online television, there were reasons for their suspension, the laws were used to come up with the decision and I believe the law has also given out guidelines to what should be done if those media outlets need to return to work.”

    Rights activists say there is no partial freedom of the press and it should be granted fully. Anna Henga is the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Tanzania.

    Henga said “if one media outlet is free and the other is not free that is not freedom. Freedom means all people are free and this is the actual meaning of freedom. We take this as the refusal of authorities to implement the president’s instructions. A president gives out instructions and you give them another interpretation — I think this is not something good for civil servants.”

    As things stand now, Kwanza TV, an outlet owned by government critic Maria Sarungi, will be allowed to reopen, while four newspapers closed by Magufuli’s government remain closed.

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