Tanzania’s government has published the Electronic and Postal (Online Content) Regulations 2018 which aims to address online TV, radio, as well as websites and social media contributions. One of the main headline items is that bloggers will now have to register their blog, and pay an annual fee of TZS2.1 million (US$920) per year which — being around the average annual per capita income — is far beyond the reach of any ordinary Tanzanian. By contrast the fees for online TV and radio are substantially lower.
This is part of a catalogue of legislation over digital content which was put forward in September 2017 by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) – although these restrictions can be traced back to 2010. The regulations were developed pursuant with the Electronic and Postal Communications Act 2010, which in effect empowers the minister of communications to make regulations on content related matters.
The regulations are badly drafted, and often unclear or inconsistent. They effectively appear to treat social media commentary as digital content provision as well. They also include NGO websites, and even government websites. There is a lengthy list of prohibited content that includes such sweeping categories as ‘disparaging words’, ‘content that causes annoyance’, and information regarding the outbreak of contagious diseases. Anyone running a website, blog, online forum — and possibly even a Facebook profile or page — must be able to identify anyone commenting on it, must have a policy to address forbidden content, and must co-operate with law enforcement officers in identifying commenters who contravene the regulations. Internet cafes must install filters to remove undesirable content, must install surveillance cameras, and must take down full ID details of any user.
Penalties for contravening any of the digital content regulations are severe and range from a TZS5 million (US$2,200) fine to 12 months imprisonment. If fully implemented, this will, in essence, allow the government to shut down and prosecute any critical content online, whether as blog posts or simply online discussions of issues or media items.
This is a significant step in Tanzania’s ongoing crackdown on the public space. Newspapers have already taken steps to self-censor and one newspaper recently voluntarily suspended its Sunday edition for three months.