There is a need to review Online Content Regulations

Wednesday October 9 2019

 

A few days ago the Content Committee of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) suspended an online television, Kwanza TV, for six months after finding it guilty.

The committee used 2018 Online Content Regulations to penalise Kwanza TV and two others for breach of rules. While Kwanza TV was handed a six-month ban, Ayo TV and Watetezi TV were fined Sh5 million each for failure to publish some of their policies.

While the Committee has legal mandate to penalise media outlets, but people have been questioning the rationale used to met the penalties on the three media outlets.

As regards the publication of policies, the big question has been on what the regulations stipulate. The regulations do not specify the mode of publication of such polices. It only mandates media outlets to have the policies in place.

Therefore, people wonder if it was sensible to penalise someone for not publishing the policies while the regulations wants the firms to have the policies. If Ayo and Watetezi were fined for not having the policies, it would have been correct.

On the other hand, the Kwanza TV issue appears to be the most controversial. Details of the offence show that the online television was penalised after airing a news item which was deemed by the Committee to be false and misleading.

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It was about an accident involving a top ranking ministry official called Dr Gwajima.

What put Kwanza TV in hot water was the use of only one name in the headline which read: Dr Gwajima involved in accident.

If you go through the content of the story, the identity of Dr Gwalima is explicitly clear. The story talks about the ministry official, who is a female, who was also interviewed.

But the TCRA Committee maintains that the TV was not clear on ‘which’ Gwajima it was referring to arguing that many people confused the name with the famous Bishop Josephat Gwajima.

Though Kwanza TV editors were summoned and gave the clarification, the Committee found their defence weak and slapped the television with the six-month ban.

There is nowhere in the process where it is indicated that Bishop Josephat Gwajima had complained about his name being erroneously used in the story. So critics have questioned the basis that the Committee used to reach the verdict?

It was from its own monitoring, why has the Committee been missing a lot of unethical broadcasts by some local online televisions?

Besides, do the penalties imposed correspond to the deemed errors or faults the television channels are deemed to have committed?

If the story content was clear on ‘which’ Gwajima the story was about, did it warrant a six-month ban simply because the headline did not specify it?

We are talking about Content Committee which is supposed to judge media outlets basing on the content of the stories they publish and not part of the content (read headline) of the story.

Obviously, there is something amiss in this matter. If the Committee was right on the steps it had taken basing on the regulations, then, the regulations should be reviewed as basing on what transpired on Kwanza TV case, something is amiss.

Dr Gwajima, as put in the headline by Kwanza TV, is different from Bishop Gwajima. Besides, Bishop Gwajima did not complain about his name being used mistakenly.

It seems like there was no serious mistake in this story yet, the Committee handed the media outlet the harsh penalty, in my opinion.

In essence, issuing guidance on media outlets should have been a major function of the Content Committee if the goal of sustainability in content by the media was to be achieved. But this is not what we have witnessed so far.

The Committee should have been penalising media houses after numerous warnings and guidelines on something. Media that fail to follow the directives and guidelines should be the ones being penalised, not necessarily with such harsh penalties.

There are no records of Kwanza TV being warned by the Committee on misrepresentation. On this case, I believe Kwanza TV deserved to be warned and not suspended for such a long period.