Only a few media companies have a predominant market position and thus a potentially high influence on public opinion in Tanzania. Whereas the regulatory framework should in theory safeguard media pluralism and prevent media concentration, it shows considerable gaps in practice. Moreover, the legal environment restricts data collection and research. These are some key results of the three-month long investigative research that the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have jointly conducted.
“The study has not only provided crucial information on trends of media ownership in Tanzania but has also showed us gaps which we need to work on so that we have a truly pluralistic and diverse media landscape, which is important for our democracy,” said Kajubi Mukajanga, Executive Secretary at Media Council of Tanzania, on the rationale of the study.
“We believe that data empower people. Transparency of media ownership is essential for an objective discussion around concentration control and media pluralism in general. We are happy to help providing this tool for the general public, but also for key stakeholders to seriously address this issue,” added Dr. Michael Rediske, President of Reporters Without Borders International.
High audience concentration for the print, TV and radio sector
The Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) reveals a high level of audience concentration for the print, TV and radio sectors. This means that Tanzania’s population receives its news mostly from an outlet belonging to one of the four major companies in each sector – which then gain a potentially high influence on public opinion.
The print market is concentrated around Mwananchi Communication Ltd., a subsidiary of the Nation Media Group, by far the most dominant market player in terms of readership. The IPP Media Group, New Habari (2006) Ltd. and the state-run Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) follow with considerable distance.
IPP Media Group dominates the broadcast sector, especially in free-to-air TV. The state-run Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), Azam Media Ltd. and Clouds Entertainment join in the top four in terms of viewership. While the radio sector in itself seems slightly more diverse as popular stations vary from region to region, Clouds Entertainment, IPP Media Group and TBC are once again the key players, demonstrating a predominant position across media sectors.
The online news and information market appears more diverse and competitive with a large number of suppliers. Some of the most popular online outlets are Jamii Forum, Millardayo, Michuzi Blog and Muungwana Blog, which are run by independent bloggers.
No plans to address gaps in regulation
The concentration tendencies in the print and broadcast sector are not surprising, considering that the prevailing legal situation almost completely lacks safeguards against any form of media concentration. Attempts to limit cross-media ownership came late in 2009 - only after media conglomerates had already expanded in a concerning manner - and were not followed through. Currently, there are no plans to address evident regulatory gaps.
Instead, the Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations Act that came into effect in March 2018 introduced a license fee for all online content providers, including bloggers.
Thus, not only did it create significant barriers for potential new market players but it also drove existing outlets out of business. A large number of blogs and online forums have closed, as they could not meet the requirements of the regulation and pay their fees.
Media owners with political and economic interests
Some of the largest media groups belong to owners who control conglomerates with a range of interests in other business sectors. For example, Dr. Reginald Mengi, who founded and now chairs the IPP Media Group, has built his fortune with a bottling industry, activities in household and cosmetic products, and mining. He also has interests in the oil and gas-, the automobile-, and the pharmaceutical industry, among others. Another case is that of Said Salim Bakhresa, a self-made millionaire who launched Azam TV, a pay TV service for East Africa. His Bakhresa Group is today one of East Africa’s largest conglomerates, including ventures in food and beverages, packaging, ferry services and petroleum trading. There is a risk that media owners with diverse business interests may use their communication channels with the objective of promoting and facilitating their other companies – at the expense of socially relevant content.
Out of the 36 monitored media outlets, around a third (13) are either state-owned or have shareholders with political affiliations, amongst them former and current high-level politicians. The government is the longest standing media owner for both broadcast and print outlets. The ruling party CCM operates its own media house, Uhuru Media Group. Freeman Mbowe, Chairman of the opposition party CHADEMA, has direct ties to the newspaper Tanzania Daima through his wife Dr. Lilian Mtei, who is the majority shareholder of Free Media Limited. These are only a few examples of political affiliations. However, considering that most media outlets with politically affiliated owners only reach a small audience, their impact on public opinion is limited.
Ownership information publicly available – but at a cost
The MOM-researchers obtained most of the ownership information from the Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA). While most company profiles were available towards the end of the project, the process of registration, application and information collection was costly and time-consuming. The quality of received official data remains questionable. While companies are legally obliged to update their company profile annually, our research showed that most companies do not meet this obligation, without having to face legal consequences. This raises questions of compliance and liability, complicating or even inhibiting meaningful regulation of media concentration.
Legal Black-Out of Data
Like in other project countries, the MOM-researchers gathered, validated and analysed a vast set of data on the media market. However, for the first time since the MOM project was launched in 2015, the researchers cannot publish the figures on particular audience data. A rather unique Tanzanian law makes the publication of statistical information subject to prior approval by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Despite a recently enacted amendment, the publication of audience data might still fall under the Statistics Act. While this legal provision seems vague and little experience on their actual implementation exists, the MOM researchers decided to seek permission from the NBS. Until such official authorisation will be granted, audience data remain blackened on the website and can only be released as soon as the NBS endorses it. “Such a practice of controlling the open exchange of research data constitutes a real barrier to professional data journalism”, said Lisa-Maria Kretschmer, MOM Tanzania Project Manager.