New TCRA internet use rules stirs up hot debate

Saturday August 1 2020

 

By Louis Kolumbia @Collouis1999 lkolumbia@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Recently revised internet use regulations have stirred up a sharp debate among the public, some feeling that authorities have further tightened the noose on free speech and individual liberties as enshrined in the Constitution.

Signed and gazetted by Information minister, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, last month, the new regulations have just been made public and elicited reaction among netizens who are some of those targeted by the rules.

Accordingly, online content service providers on entertainment, education and religious issues are now among categories that should secure an operational licence from authorities. The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2020, also have outlined 10 prohibited contents, some of which critics quickly claimed was meant to gag the public as the country heads toward the October 28, General Election.

Some of the provisions, they claimed, would now make it illegal for members of the public to rally campaigns online around an issue without approval by authorities .

The prohibitions are around areas such as sexuality and decency, personal privacy and human dignity, public security, violence and national safety as well as criminal and illegal trade activities. Others are health and public safety, protection of intellectual property rights, respect to religion and personal beliefs, public information that may cause havoc and disorder, use of foul language and disparaging words as well as false, untrue and misleading content.

The regulations were published on July 17, 2020 under the Government Notice No.538, outlining that licenses should be applied by all online content service providers on entertainment issues covering music, movies, series, plays, dramas, comedy, sports and any other related content. This means that any person wishing or currently involved in content publishing online that falls in all the stated categories must be licenced or prohibited to do so.

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A contravention to these regulations would earn one a fine of not less than five millions shillings or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.

It prohibits uploading content on social media that promote gambling and similar activities like betting and lottery. It also prohibits publications of content that “call for motives, promotes or provokes non-compliance to the law and regulations,” in what netizens linked to recent ‘protest’ campaigns online. “Contents that are involved in planning, organizing, promoting and calling for demonstrations, marches or the like that would lead to public disorder are prohibited,” reads the regulations in part.

Contents that would threaten the security of the country or affect public order, those that include news of official confidential communications or military affairs as well as the content that would harm the country’s currency or lead to confusion about the economic condition of the country are also prohibited. Users pointed out that this generalisation would leave the room open for TCRA to crackdown on innocent internet users.

Marketing of certain goods online, especially those not licenced would also attract punishment. These involve things such as health establishments, medical and pharmaceutical practices, medicines and medical products, dietary supplements, weight loss and increase products as well as unlicensed cosmetic pills and creams. A new provision would now make it illegal for example to post content on diseases such as Civid-19 or any other pandemic. It read says it prohibits publication of content with information regarding the outbreak of deadly or contagious diseases in the country or elsewhere without approval of respective authorities.

False, untrue and misleading information that may mislead or deceive the public unless clearly pre-stated are prohibited.

Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, TCRA head of licencing Andrew Kisaka said the new regulations are meant to enhance compliance. He said the categorisation has lumped together some of the content providers earlier not captured. He said education and religious online content service providers will have their fee licences cut by 50 per cent due to their nature of work and contribution. “New regulations also have outlined and described prohibited issues in order to increase citizen’s awareness and increase compliance,” he offered, adding that a Kiswahili version was almost ready.

“Regulations also address service provider’s concern that they were charged to pay heavy penalties due to noncompliance, something that will now be taken care of by the ethics committee.” Earlier, the executive director of Jamii Forums and Digital Rights advocate Maxence Melo said stakeholders were not involved.

“How can network users ranging between 25 million and 27 million be denied involvement,”he said. “Releasing the document before the elections is equestionable.” Advocate Jebra Kambole said the new regulations criminalised all Tanzanians attempt at free speech and that they were all supposed to seek licences from authorities.

“The regulations also kill creativity and innovation as Sh1 million has to be paid by graduates in order to enjoy and execute social media related activities related to their professions,” he said.

According to him, Article 18 and Article 13 (6)(a) of the country’s Constitution that promotes freedom of information and a fair trial are denied by new regulations.