Journalists and editors in Tanzania have singled out advertisers as one of the key forces that stifle press freedom in the country.
The journalists and editors said that advertisers use their financial muscle to demand for only positive press coverage of their activities.
"We have very many multi-national companies such as Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, they have financial power. If you write negatively about them, they go straight to the courts, acquire a court injunction, and deny the public access to information," said Peter Elias, reporter Citizen newspaper.
Elias’s view was supported by Deodatus Balile, the Managing Editor of a Tanzanian Weekly Jamhuri who was quoted by a report on Advertising and Censorship in East saying that “advertisers are the biggest financial supporters of the press and yet they the biggest suppressors of freedom of the press." Balile, in the same report termed advertisers are a mixed blessing.
The same report noted that in Tanzania, advertising revenue covers about 85 percent of a newspaper's operating costs, which provides little margin for aggressive reporting that might alienate clients.
Last year in December, MwanaHalisi newspaper wrote a critical story about Airtel Company leading the Tanzanian Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) into bankruptcy. They received threats to be taken to court but they firmly stood by their story.
“MwanaHalisi is a private entity which does not depend on corporate or government advertising. So, if they do wrong we publish them.” Jabir Idrissa, Chief Editor said.
Influencing the press using the financial clout of advertisement is not only a corporate affair in Tanzania. There is a growing concern that the Tanzanian government has used advertising to quietly control what is published and what is not. Media outlets that are overtly critical of the government or those that publish outspoken opinions get little or no advertising from the state according to journalists and media analysts.
“The Current regime has ordered all public adverts not to be taken by private newspapers. All adverts have to be taken to government newspapers, an order by (President John) Magafuli himself,” said Idrissa.
News Editors are the final decision makers when it comes to releasing information in line with company’s policy. They can easily yield to pressure in quest of meeting commercial targets for their publications.
”Most editors fear being closed down by the government. As a result, self-censorship is usually an unwritten policy of most media houses, so there is rarely critical reporting about the state. Fear of losing advertising, especially from big advertisers, also results in self-censorship around negative reporting of these companies.” Said Paul Mallimbo, Media Council of Tanzania
Some newspapers have also been accused of writing editorials that appease advertisers.
"We have even gotten to the point where editors write what I call 'advertorials' to appease companies - false editorials that invariably praise their corporate advertisers," Doedatus Balile was quoted in the report on Advertising and Censorship in East Africa.