According to a letter sent to The East African bureau chief in Tanzania, the decision was ostensibly taken because the paper “has been circulating in the country without having registration, 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 Newspaper, 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, Mr 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 criticized the Dar es Salaam administration’s stance on FDLR rebels in DRC as a case in point.
Mr Mwambene also took exception to the cartoon in this week’s issue of The EastAfrican, that he said demonstrated bad taste and disrespect to the person and office if 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 Group Wilfred Kiboro said the excuse 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 was an issue of regularising files, that does not require such a draconian measure 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 sister publication a 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 and demand now, as we did then, that such unfair and undemocratic actions are what undermines our governments’ claims to being democratic, believing in press freedom and to being pro-business”.
Mr Kiboro added that our editorial policies are explicit on our independence, which is what will continue to guide the newspaper’s reporting at all times.
“We know that there are instances we have erred in judgement and we have been quick to apologise, like in the case of the cartoon in question. Such mistakes however, can never justify a ban because banning is an options only unaccountable dictatorships apply,” he said.
He said that he hoped that the Tanzania government, in keeping with its avowed commitment to free press and support for democratic ideals, will speedily allow The EastAfrican back in circulation.
The NMG, through its subsidiary Mwananchi Communications Ltd, also published the Mwananchi, the Citizen and the Mwanaspoti newspapers in Tanzania.