Outcry over new exorbitant media licensing and accreditation fees
"Ao impor taxas exageradas para o funcionamento de órgãos de comunicação social no país, consideramos este decreto uma tentativa vil para coartar a liberdade de imprensa e de expressão consagradas na Constituição", Fernando Gonçalves MISA #Moçambique https://t.co/QWE8WLJGo1 pic.twitter.com/WIRL98UzV4— Jornal a Verdade (@verdademz) 3 August 2018
On 23rd July 2018, Decree 40/2018 was enacted, substantially increasing the fees for the registration, licensing and renewal of licenses for media outlets. It also increases the fees for both local and foreign journalists' accreditation. The new decree now makes Mozambique the most expensive country on the African continent for journalists and media outlets. Community radio and television stations are also affected by the decree, as they will be obliged to pay 50,000 MZN (822 USD) and 150,000 MZN (2,465 USD) for their licensing fee.
The license fees for national media outlets are also high. A license for a new national radio station would cost 2 million MZN (32,700 USD) and 3 million MZN (49,050 USD) for a new national television station. These exorbitant prices also apply for the renewal of licenses and the adjustment of current licenses to adhere to the new regulations. An overview of fees can be found here.
Journalists also face increasing accreditation fees: a foreign journalists will have to pay 500,000 MZN (8,219 USD) per year, while a national correspondent for a foreign media outlet will have to pay 200,000 MZN (3,287 USD). Accreditation for freelance journalists will cost 30,000 MZN (493 USD) for a national journalist and 150,000 MZN (2,465 USD) for a foreign freelancer.
Director of Gabinete de Informação (GABINFO), the government entity that will be responsible for issuing licenses, Emília Moiane said in an interview to the weekly Savana that the fees were introduced after conducting a market study:
"Looking at the media market, which is an industry, and like all sectors of activity of our country, should contribute to the coffers of the State" (Translated from Portuguese)
Civil society, private media outlets and media organisations in Mozambique heavily criticised the new decree. In particular, they highlighted the lack of consultation with CSOs prior to the decree's approval. Many say that the decree will strangle independent media in the country and prevent foreign correspondents from reporting in the country. Others have highlighted that the level of the fees threaten the sustainability and survival of media in the country and endanger the access to information. Director of the journal Savana said to Deutsche Welle that the decree is:
"...clearly an indirect attempt, through the economic way, to impose sanctions on independent media in Mozambique" (Translated from Portuguese)
MISA-Mozambique (Media Institute for Southern Africa) and other organisations condemned the new regulations, highlighting, among other, the negative consequences for communities. In a statement, they said:
"The Decree not only violates a number of fundamental rights such as freedom of the press, expression and the right to information, but can also lead to bankruptcy of the majority of the media, with greater seriousness for the community media that has served communities and, in many cases, as the only means of information available in the community. This could lead to the unemployment of hundreds of journalists, including national and foreign press correspondents who have this activity as their sole source of income, as well as depriving communities of access to information." (Translated from Portuguese)
Given that municipal elections will take place in October 2018 and general elections in 2019, the new regulation raises concerns on the transparency of those elections. Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said:
"Not only do these fee increases by the Mozambican government make it practically impossible for independent press to continue working, they also lay bare a flagrant attempt to undermine transparency ahead of elections and as the country brokers natural resource deals."
On 25th August 2018, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Lawrence Mute, also expressed his concern. He stated "that the decree imposes prohibitively high fees for journalists and media which will undermine the expression and dissemination of information."
Mozambican media groups have submitted a petition to the Justice Obudusman asking him to revoke the new media fees which make Mozambique one of the most expensive places to be a journalist. pic.twitter.com/ZIOtNCmnEF— Zenaida Machado (@zenaidamz) 13 augustus 2018
Meanwhile, on 14th August 2018, several civil society organisations petitioned Mozambique's Ombusdman to revoke the Decree.
Due to the opposition against the new decree, GABINFO announced on 21st August 2018 the creation of a mixed commission, composed of representatives of the private media, the Sindicato Nacional dos Jornalistas (SNJ; National Syndicate of Journalists) and national and international correspondents, to study the controversial fees imposed by the decree. The announcement came during meetings with private media outlets, CSOs and journalists on 21st August 2018. Representative of GABINFO, Cecília Gonçalves, said that "this does not mean that the decree will be changed. What can be changed is the tariff-setting chart”. The institution also stated that the new fees were not yet in force, as the norms and procedures for the accreditation and licensing are still to be developed.
On 7th May 2018, approximately 100 people from the Sidwava neighbourhood in Matola, Maputo Province, organised a protest. Participants marched to the presidency in Maputo calling for the intervention of President Felipe Nyusi in a land dispute between residents and troops stationed in the Sidwava neighbourhood. The protesters demanded the cessation of military training in the area which they claim recently resulted in the death of a seven-year old child.
Deutsche Welle reported that, in the weekend of 28th July 2018, one person was killed and two seriously injured when the Rapid Intervention Force intervened in protests in the district of Inhassunge in Zambézia province. Citizens protested against plans for their resettlement to make way for the exploitation of heavy mineral sand, a concession given to the Chinese company Africa Great Wall Mining Development Company. A few weeks prior, a government official was allegedly injured after citizens threw stones at him during a meeting.