Tanzania’s government has approved a law that will regulate content posted online, introducing fees for bloggers and online media in addition to policing morals and authenticity of social media users.
The regulation known as the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2018, was initially published by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and came into effect during March 2018.
Under the new regulations, Tanzanians operating online radio stations and video (TV) websites, including bloggers will be required to apply for a licence, pay a licence fee upon registration as well as annual fees.
The registration requirements and the fees are likely to be a heavy burden for most bloggers and small-sized outlets streaming content in Tanzania, thereby reducing diversity in the media space in the process.
Pay $900 to run a blog
With an application fee of 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings, an initial license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings and an annual license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings, Tanzanians have to pay up to $900 to operate a personal blog in the country.
The regulations give government the right to revoke a permit if a site publishes content that is considered to be ‘indecent, obscene, hate speech, extreme violence or material that will offend or incite others, cause annoyance, threaten, or encourage or incite crime, or lead to public disorder’.
Online content providers will also be required to remove ‘prohibited content’ within 12 hours or face fines not less than five million shillings ($2,210) or a year in prison.
Compulsory passwords on mobile phones
The new regulations also require all Tanzanians with mobile devices to have a password (PIN) for locking their phones, with defaulters being fined up to 5 million Tanzanian Shillings (approximately $2,000) or 12 months imprisonment, or both depending on what the court decides.
Internet cafés and online platforms are also expected to install surveillance cameras to record and archive activities inside their business premises.
Despite TCRA holding public forums to discuss the draft document published in 2017 where various stakeholders raised objections, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, Tanzania’s Minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, went ahead and signed the regulations into law.
“The registration requirements and the fees are likely to be a heavy burden for most bloggers and small-sized outlets streaming content in Tanzania, thereby reducing diversity in the media space in the process,” Angela Quintal, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa program director said in an interview with Quartz Africa.
The government contends that the new regulations will help to put a stop to the “moral decadence” cause by social media and internet in the country. Social media has also been described as a threat to national security by some policy makers in Tanzania.
A dictator in the making?
The passing of the law is yet another demonstration of president John Magufuli’s authoritarian style of leadership which has been heavily criticised by human rights activists and the opposition.
Since coming to power in 2015, Magufuli’s strict and controversial leadership style has earned him critics and the title of ‘the Bulldozer’.
He has banned opposition parties from holding rallies and mobilisation, denied pregnant teenage girls the right to attend school, and targeted mainstream and online media that have been critical of his government.
The United States, European Union and several Western embassies last month voiced concern over politics-related violence and allegations of human rights abuses.