Tanzania Plans To Outlaw Fact-Checking Of Government Statistics

from the dodgy-data dept

Back in April, Techdirt wrote about a set of regulations brought in by the Tanzanian government that required people there to pay around $900 per year for a license to blog. Despite the very high costs it imposes on people -- Tanzania's GDP per capita was under $900 in 2016 -- it seems the authorities are serious about enforcing the law. The iAfrikan site reported in June:

Popular Tanzanian forums and "leaks" website, Jamii Forums, has been temporarily shut down by government as it has not complied with the new regulations and license fees required of online content creators in Tanzania. This comes after Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) issued a notice to Jamii Forums reminding them that it is a legal offense to publish content on the Internet without having registered and paid for a license.

The Swahili-language site Jamii Forums is back online now. But the Tanzanian authorities are not resting on their laurels when it comes to introducing ridiculous laws. Here's another one that's arguably worse than charging bloggers to post:

[President John] Magufuli and his colleagues are now looking to outlaw fact checking thanks to proposed amendments to the Statistics Act, 2015.

"The principal Act is amended by adding immediately after section 24 the following: 24A.-(1) Any person who is authorised by the Bureau to process any official statistics, shall before publishing or communicating such information to the public, obtain an authorisation from the Bureau. (2) A person shall not disseminate or otherwise communicate to the public any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort, or discredit official statistics," reads the proposed amendments to Tanzania's Statistics Act, 2015 as published in the Gazette of the United Republic of Tanzania No. 23 Vol. 99.

As the iAfrikan article points out, the amendments will mean that statistics published by the Tanzanian government must be regarded as correct, however absurd or obviously erroneous they might be. Moreover, it will be illegal for independent researchers to publish any other figures that contradict, or even simply call into question, official statistics.

This is presumably born of a thin-skinned government that wants to avoid even the mildest criticism of its policies or plans. But it seems certain to backfire badly. If statistics are wrong, but no one can correct them, there is the risk that Tanzanian businesses, organizations and citizens will make bad decisions based on this dodgy data. That could lead to harmful consequences for the economy and society, which the Tanzanian government might well be tempted to cover up by issuing yet more incorrect statistics. Without open and honest feedback to correct this behavior, there could be an ever-worsening cascade of misinformation and lies until public trust in the government collapses completely. Does President Magufuli really want that?

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  • identicon
    Michael, 19 Sep 2018 @ 12:04pm

    "there is the risk that Tanzanian businesses, organizations and citizens will make bad decisions based on this dodgy data"

    That's ok. They will just outlaw making bad decisions next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2018 @ 12:24pm

    **This is presumably born of a thin-skinned government that wants to avoid even the mildest criticism of its policies or plans.**

    *Without open and honest feedback to correct this behavior, there could be an ever-worsening cascade of misinformation and lies until public trust in the government collapses completely.*

    The second statement seems to criticize the first statement. Might want to avoid travel to Tanzania.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 19 Sep 2018 @ 1:05pm

    Fake News!

    Gosh, seems like an honest leader would embrace fact checking instead of demonizing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vlad D. Impala, 19 Sep 2018 @ 3:41pm

    Can someone check these facts for me?

    Apparently there is a large population of vampires in Tanzalvania

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Sep 2018 @ 3:54pm

    It was a WARNING, not a To-Do list

    While I'm not usually the sort to suggest book bans of any sort I'm starting to think it might be worth it to scrub 1984 from existence, given how many governments seem to treat it as an instruction manual of what to do, rather than a cautionary tale on what not to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Sep 2018 @ 4:50pm

      Cautionary Tales

      Well Tanzania seems to be eager to set itself up as a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

      Hopefully it comes to its senses before that cautionary tale plays out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2018 @ 2:09am

      Re: It was a WARNING, not a To-Do list

      It is not so much that politicians are using 1984 as the manual, but rather they were the inspiration for the book.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hey Yu, 19 Sep 2018 @ 6:56pm

    That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

    I can't keep up with all the country name changes in Africa. What were they called last decade?

    But otherwise, not so different policy wise from our own guv, seems to me.

    What does our congress do, for example. Certainly not declare war, or end (the never ending multiple) wars.

    Back to the debt driven salt mines I go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 19 Sep 2018 @ 7:15pm

      No different at all, really

      Indeed, why I distinctly remember when the US passed a law that made it so you had a to pay the average household income in order to post online(which reminds me, I should probably look into paying that at some point...), and who can forget the day they made it a crime to publish information that contradicted official claims?

      So long as you ignore the glaring differences you're absolutely right, not so different after all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2018 @ 9:06pm

      Re: That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

      Last decade they were called Tanzania (technically, the United Republic of Tanzania). And also the decade before that, and the one before that, back to the year 1964 wherein they wrote their constitution after achieving independence from Britain.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2018 @ 8:15pm

    Well that's one way to deal with fake news. Make sure no one knows it's fake!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jim P. (profile), 20 Sep 2018 @ 10:48am

    Orwell

    it's a major part of "double think". The government can point to ever in cre4asing prosperity and no one can safely contradict them.

    This worked for the Soviet Empire for the best part of a century. It eventually falls down of course but those in power cannot think pas their own greed and lust for control.

    When no one has the guts to tell the "Big Man" the real truth, you get bunker scenarios at the end when the Great Leader is moving armies and divisions around on map boards, armies and divisions that no longer exist and ordering air forces into action that have long been shot out of the sky or commanding distributions of food from warehouses long since emptied if they were ever even built.

    North Korea survives on this logic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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