The media in Tanzania

By Rose Athumani

This text provides an overview of the media in Tanzania, particularly as it relates to the music industry. 

Broadcasting Transmitter. Photo: www.mvtvwireless.com
Broadcasting Transmitter. Photo: www.mvtvwireless.com

The local media industry in Tanzania has gone through several phases, including that of German colonial era in the 1880s to 1919, which mostly catered for the needs of the then German administration. The British administration took over from 1919 to 1961, during which time the media was also not geared towards the majority of Tanzanians.

After Tanzania became independent in 1961, Julius Nyerere, the new regime’s founding president, did not boost or allow the media to flourish. However, the music industry grew, with local bands becoming popular across Africa, and some receiving support from the state. The only recording facility available at the time was at the state-owned Radio Tanzania Dar Es Salaam (RTD), now the Tanzania Broadcasting Cooperation (TBC). From the late 60s RTD consistently sponsored Tanzanian bands, contributing to the development of a Tanzanian music style known as Mtindo.

In the mid-1980s Nyerere’s socialist experiment came to an end, which necessitated change in the way the media industry operated.  This gave rise to the current period, which has seen the birth of independent press in the country, leading to the mushrooming of a whole lot of private print and electronic media. The proliferation of the private media outlets and the growth of press freedom since the mid-1990s due to this economic liberalization have provided a wide variety of print, broadcast and online media in Tanzania today.

Tanzania is among a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the media operates in two official languages, namely English and Kiswahili - the latter being the national language. Most Tanzanians are fluent in Swahili and prefer it over English, explaining why Kiswahili still dominates the local media.

Print media

The Daily News[i], a state-owned newspaper, was the result of a forced merger of two papers, The Standard (first published as the Tanganyika Standard in January 1930 by the Kenyan East African Standard Ltd) and The Nationalist (first published on April 1964 as a government-owned daily). In January 1972, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the principle political party in the struggle for sovereignty in the East African state of Tanganyika (now Tanzania), decided to end the rivalry between the two papers and force a merger that resulted to what is today The Daily News, which was first published on 26th April 1972. The company that published the newspaper retained the name Standard and is still known as Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Ltd[ii] , which currently publishes Daily News[iii], Sunday News, Habari Leo[iv] and Spoti Leo.  These newspapers have pages for entertainment, which would include stories of local and sometimes international musicians.  Spoti Leo focusses on sports and entertainment news.

Some of the private newspapers that have emerged since the 1990s include The Citizen[v], Mwananchi[vi], Mtanzania[vii] and Tanzania Daima[viii], which provide more coverage on local music artists including upcoming artists who would not otherwise be featured in the state newspapers. Mwananchi typically dedicates a full page carrying detailed stories of artists in Swahili[ix], while it’s English sister publication The Citizen also has one full page dedicated to entertainment, covering mostly local artists[x].

There are tabloid newspapers published in Swahili that also write about musicians and other celebs, such as Ijumaa, Uwazi and Kiu

Broadcast media

The only radio and TV transmission allowed to cover the whole country is the state-owned Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC)[xi], which broadcasts both television and radio countrywide. Of the radio stations under the TBC, Taifa broadcasts features, news and music programmes such as ‘Habari na Muziki’ (news and music). TBC FM broadcasts mostly music, on programmes such as ‘Pasopaso’, ‘Njozi Njema, ‘Magoma Time’ and ‘Milazo XP’.

The mushrooming of FM music stations since the 1990s has been a blessing to the music industry, coupled with increase of recording studios, which have played a major part in boosting the music industry in the country.

One of the most popular private radio stations that have been instrumental in promoting artists is Clouds FM[xii], which also streams live online from its website and recently launched a TV station called Clouds TV[xiii]. Popular artists such as Diamond Platinumz, Juma Nature, Lady Jaydee and others command huge support from fans both within and outside the country. At one point in their music career passed through Clouds FM.

Cloud FM is associated with Tanzania House of Talent (THT)[xiv] , which grooms youth for the entertainment industry. THT was founded in January 2006 as a centre for performing arts for the youth who have limited access to vocational training or employment opportunities within the music and entertainment industry. THT has supported over 400 young Tanzanians who have shown promise in music and music promotion, dance and choreography, theatre and script writing, film and post production activities.

Radio One[xv] is another popular radio station that offer dedicated music programmes, including ‘DJ Show’ from Monday to Friday at 3pm.

Another private company, the Sahara Media Group Ltd[xvi], operates the popular radio stations Kiss FM and Radio Free Africa, as well as Star TV.

In terms of private television channels, Independent Television Limited (ITV)[xvii] features music shows such as ‘Reggae Ridim’, mostly reggae music from local and international artists, ‘African Fiesta’, a mixture of music from Africa, and ‘Mambo Yoyo’, which features local artists. The DStv bouquet is available and offers numerous international music channels such as MTV, albeit only to those who can afford it.

Online media

Surprisingly, the majority of Tanzanian artists do not have their own websites, which can be hugely instrumental in promoting their music both within and outside the country. There are a few music websites, such as Vibe[xviii] and Bongo5[xix], which feature both local and international artists. Other online magazines also occasionally feature news of Bongo Flava artists, such as Fas Magazine[xx] and Mambo Magazine[xxi]. Popular music blogs include Tanzania Dance[xxii] and Wanamuziki Tanzania[xxiii].

Online radio stations are also growing in popularity. Bongo Radio[xxiv], based in the USA, is one of the most popular web-based radio stations that feature Bongo Flava music. Another US-based station, Radio Mbao[xxv], also features Bongo Flava as well as a mixture of regional and international artists.

Popular online platforms for streaming or downloading music in Tanzania include Mziiki[xxvi] and Mdundo[xxvii].

Media freedom and censorship

As explained earlier, until the early 1990s, the few publications, radio and TV stations that were operating in Tanzania were state-controlled. The nation’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, feared that wider access to communication channels (through the private ownership of TV sets, for example) would increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Although this has changed drastically since the 1990s, the government remains careful about the way it deals with the freedom of the press, as enshrined in the legal domain.  

Article 18 of the current Constitution guarantees every Tanzania the right to expression and freedom of opinion. However, the Newspaper Act of 1976 allows government authorities to exercise powers and prohibit publications deemed against the interests of the nation. The 1993 Broadcasting Services Act ensures that private broadcasters are only allowed to broadcast to 25% of the country.

The Tanzania communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA)[xxviii] is a quasi-independent government body responsible for regulating the communications and broadcasting sectors in the country. It was established under the TCRA Act of 2003 to regulate the electronic communication and postal services and management of the national frequency spectrum in the country.  The authority is trying to create a level playing field for all.

Despite guarantee of free speech in the constitution, there are examples of the government repressing information. The government has banned newspapers that it feels go against the nations’ principles, such newspaper include The East African[xxix], a regional publication published in Nairobi, Kenya, and a local newspaper Mwanahalisi[xxx], which now publishes stories online. As a result, international watchdog Freedom House has declared that the media in Tanzania is only ‘partly free’[xxxi].

As in the early decades following Tanzania’s independence, the media remains an effective platform for promoting Tanzanian music. It is safe to say that the Tanzanian media has had a big role in promoting Bongo Flava in particular, bringing it up to international standards and making it possible for local musicians to collaborate with international artists.


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