Tanzania has taken another step towards stifling press freedom in the country by banning the use of foreign content by the national media.

In a bizarre move, the Tanzanian government announced on August 10 that local media would not be allowed to use content produced by foreign media organizations, according to news reports and Tanzanian journalists who spoke with the International Press Institute (IPI). According to the regulations, media organizations will have to seek permission from the government to use such content. Also, foreign journalists, who collaborate with local counterparts, will apparently have to seek approval from the government and will have to be accompanied by a government official.

“By imposing these absurd new regulations ahead of the elections in October, the government is trying to censor critical news and deny citizens their right to information”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “It is another blow to press freedom in the country, which is already under severe strain due to existing draconian laws that allow the government to suspend and shut down newspapers, radio and TV channels.”

The new regulations, issued by the country’s telecommunications regulator TCRA, also prohibit media organizations from publishing or disseminating news about the COVID-19 pandemic without the approval of the government. Similarly, in an order issued on July 17, authorities made it illegal to post messages on social media platforms that tarnish the reputation of Tanzania.

While these are new regulations, President John Magufuli’s government, who is seeking re-election in polls scheduled to be held on October 28, has previously used laws such as the Media Services Act to stifle independent news.. In June, the government banned the printing and distribution of Tanzania Naima daily, accusing the newspaper of flouting national laws and journalism ethics.

In March 2019, the East African Court of Justice had ruled that the Media Services Act 2016, under which the newspaper was banned, violates press freedom and the protocols of the East Africa Treaty.

Despite this ruling Tanzania has continued to use the Media Services Act to ban newspapers. In 2019, several newspapers were banned from publication, including Mwananchi, Mtanzania and Raia.

IPI has previously expressed concern about the potential threat the Media Services Act poses to media freedom as part of the crisis facing press freedom in Tanzania under President John Magufuli. IPI has repeatedly urged the government to take actions to uphold press freedom in the country.