Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Tanzania must ensure that digital migration promotes freedom of expression

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 18 March 2013
Cite as Article 19, Tanzania must ensure that digital migration promotes freedom of expression, 18 March 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5149be582.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the recent transition to digital broadcasting in Tanzania did not take into account the needs of viewers and broadcasters and as a result many people are no longer able to watch TV.

ARTICLE 19  calls on the government and the Tanzania Telecommunication Regulatory Authority to fulfil the right to freedom of expression and respect media pluralism by providing information on digital migration and financial assistance to disadvantaged viewers and listeners, as well as to  broadcasters to cope with the transition.

"ARTICLE 19 has consistently called upon governments to ensure openness, transparency and universal access as the only way to guarantee that all people enjoy the benefits that come from digital broadcasting. It is not acceptable for digital communication to be an exclusive service available only to the few," said Henry Maina, Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

Digitalisation - the process of turning the analogue broadcasting system into a system of digital television and radio – affects the right of freedom of expression of viewers and listeners and of broadcasters. In an ideal situation, digitalisation will foster media pluralism by enabling the broadcasting of more channels with a wider range of programming. As a result viewers and listeners would be able to receive more diverse information and opinions.

However, the technical and financial aspect of the switch to digital broadcasting will be burdensome for vulnerable people in Tanzania, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. According to available statistics, since the transition to digital TV at the end of December 2012, 50% of TV owners cannot access TV services because they do not have set top boxes. So far, they have received insufficient information about the new digital technology and about financial assistance in cases when they cannot afford the set top boxes

Similarly the financial burden imposed on commercial and public broadcasters to purchase technical equipment necessary to the transition to digital broadcasting may affect their ability to continue operating. Many local and regional TV stations are already in disadvantageous position due to high operation costs and low advertisement revenues. Lack of consideration for media diversity and pluralism in the digital process might drive they them out of business and creating a monopoly of "big players."

Digital switchover policies must therefore take into account the interests of all stakeholders and ensure that media pluralism and the right to freedom of expression are respected. Tanzanian government should also consider allowing simultaneous digital and analogue broadcasting until all stakeholders are prepared to switch completely to digital TV and facilitate access to information in the process.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tanzanian government and the Tanzania Telecommunication Regulatory Authority to adopt a rights-based approach to digitalization directed at promoting and protecting human rights, analysing inequalities, and redressing discriminatory practices and the unjust distribution of power, information and resources.

ARTICLE 19 also calls upon all Eastern Africa states to specifically think through the digital migration process and ensure that it promotes and safeguards freedom of expression and access to information.

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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