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?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Filed Under: fact checking, free speech, internet, tanzania


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  1. 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.


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