An overview of the media landscape in Tanzania

Titus Mlengeya, Tanzania's minister for livestock and fisheries development, speaking to Tanzanian journalists after he opened the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Tanzania office in Dar es Salaam on Jun 13, 2014. Image by ILRI from Flickr (CC BY-ND 4.0 DEED).

Tanzania, an East African nation within the African Great Lakes region, can boast a vibrant and diverse media landscape comprising both state-owned and privately-owned outlets.

With a population exceeding 66 million, the country has 126 spoken languages, making it the most linguistically diverse nation in East Africa. The majority of Tanzania’s population resides in rural areas. As highlighted by Data Reportal, in 2023, 37 percent of the country’s population lived in urban centres, while 63 percent lived in rural areas.

Although there is no legally designated official language, Swahili holds the status of the national language. English plays a pivotal role in foreign trade, diplomacy, and higher courts and is the medium of instruction in secondary and higher education. Additionally, Arabic is spoken in Zanzibar, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

Media publications and broadcasts in Tanzania are primarily in Swahili and English. Vital information reaches the public through diverse online and print newspapers, radio stations, television networks and social media platforms. These are regulated by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.

With 183 radio stations and 45 percent of the population relying on radio as their primary source for daily news, this media platform is the most predominant and widely embraced in Tanzania.

There are approximately 229 newspapers, 22 blogs and online news sites in Tanzania. The Daily News, the oldest and largest state-owned English-language newspaper, is complemented by its Swahili counterpart, Habari Leo. Among privately owned newspapers, The Citizen and Nipashe are the most popular. While the first offers coverage in English, Nipashe provides coverage in Swahili.

Habari Leo, with over 521,000 followers, leads the digital scene, while the Citizen, Nipashe and the Daily News follow with 446,000, 237,000 and 2,500 followers, respectively. On X (formerly Twitter), the Citizen has an impressive 305,000 followers, surpassing Nipashe with 205,100 followers, Habari Leo with 166,100 followers and the Daily News with 92,800 followers. Across Instagram, Habari Leo continues to shine with over 313,000 followers, while Nipashe, the Citizen and the Daily News maintain followings of 137,000, 41,300 and 14,400, respectively. On YouTube, only Habari Leo has amassed more than 1 million followers.

Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) is the only state-owned television station in Tanzania. In total, there are 43 TV stations, the majority privately owned. Ayo TV and Global TV online are the most popular privately owned television stations, with a following of 4.91 million and 4.66 million subscribers on YouTube, respectively. TBC also maintains a presence on Instagram, YouTube and X, garnering over 1 million, 367,000 and 111,300 followers on the respective platforms. Information is mostly broadcast in Swahili on these TV stations. Other privately owned TV stations include Star TV, TV 1 and TVZ.

On the global stage, Tanzania news receives coverage from several international media outlets, including Voice of America, The Conversation, the Independent, Okayafrica, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio France Internationale, The Guardian, Africanews and BBC Africa.

According to a 2023 report by DataReportal, the internet penetration in Tanzania was 31.6 percent in 2023, implying that about 68.4 percent of the population remained offline at the beginning of the year. Only 7.4 percent of the total population actively uses social media, with Facebook (3.8 million users) and  Instagram (2.45 million users) being the most widely utilized platforms.

They are followed by Linkedin (1.1 million), Facebook Messenger (1.09 million) and Twitter (594,800).

Regarding press freedom, as highlighted by Daniel Ominde Okoth, Tanzania's Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index ranking plummeted by a record 53 places in 2016. In 2023, Reporters Without Borders ranked Tanzania 143rd out of 180 countries, reflecting a 20-place decline from the previous year's position of 123.

Reporters Without Borders also notes that many media outlets are either owned by politicians or influenced by them, compromising editorial independence and leading to biased coverage.

During the 2015 Presidential elections, the government consistently obstructed access to state-held information of public interest, especially when related to security or development issues.

Following the death of then-President John Pombe Magufuli in March 2021, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in to complete the remaining four years of Magufuli's term. Magufuli's government had faced accusations of repressing opposition through laws restricting rallies, suspending newspapers, and threatening media outlets. Furthermore, Tanzania Bishops criticized the government for suppressing constitutional freedoms, while some citizens were arrested for cyberbullying the president.

Samia Suluhu Hassan's ascent to power initially raised hopes, as her administration initially showed an openness to holding talks on reforming media laws and regulations, but significant improvements have yet to materialize. 

The aforementioned challenges underscore the need for ongoing vigilance in upholding journalistic principles and fostering an environment that supports press freedom and transparency.

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