The Mozambique government has drastically increased licensing and accreditation fees for media and journalists, which will squeeze out local independent media outlets and effectively bar foreign press from reporting on the country – just weeks away from the start of the country’s next round of local and national elections.
“This is another blatant attack on press freedom by the Frelimo government,” Erik Charas, a Mozambican activist, media entrepreneur and founder of independent newspaper @Verdade told Zitamar News on Wednesday. “It goes against the current and existing press freedom law, and it also infringes on the constitutional rights of the country’s citizens.”
New accreditation charges, of $8,300 a year to register as a foreign correspondent in Mozambique, and $3,500 a year for a local journalist writing for a foreign news outlet, $2500 for a foreign freelancer, and $500 for a local freelancer, are far in excess of fees imposed anywhere else in the world and have been condemned by international press freedom organisations.
“There can be no justification for imposing such unwarranted and unprecedented fees. They undermine media freedom, price individuals out of jobs and raise genuine fears of a crackdown on independent journalism. We call on the government to think again and stop restricting the ability of journalists to do their job on behalf of citizens,” the General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Anthony Bellanger, told Zitamar.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it is “concerned” by reports that the authorities in Mozambique are imposing prohibitively high financial levies journalists working for foreign press. “It is our hope the Mozambican authorities will work to ensure their country’s media landscape remains as open as possible ahead of municipal elections scheduled for October and presidential elections scheduled for next year,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Gabinete de Informação, the body that will charge these fees, did not respond to requests for comment on why these new fees have been introduced – or what they expect the impact to be on independent news reporting in Mozambique.
Closing in on independent media
As well as the swingeing accreditation fees for individual journalists, Decree 40/2018 – which was approved by Mozambique’s cabinet in June and comes into force in September – introduces vastly higher registration costs and licence fees for independent newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.
Registering a publication will cost MT 200,000 ($3,300), while radio licences will cost from MT 50,000 ($830) for a community station to MT two million ($34,400) for a national station; TV licenses will cost between MZN 150,000 ($2,500) for a community station to MZN 3 million ($51,800) for a national station. Existing media companies that need to make adjustments to their license or registration will need to pay between 2 and 4 million meticais ($34,500-$69,000).
“There is no justification for a community radio fee to increase 100,000%, except for the fact that the government wants to close it down, having tried and failed all other methods, including physical intimidation,” said Charas.
Threats and intimidation against any journalist who upsets the authorities, and the resulting self-censorship, especially in rural areas, is the reason Mozambique has consistently slid down the World Press Freedom Index over the past four years to 99th place, out of 180 countries.
As ExxonMobil and Anadarko prepare to make a final investment decision on their $20 billion gas projects in northern Mozambique next year, Charas fears suppression of the independent media will only get worse.
“Mozambique is living the resource curse due to the recent discoveries of natural gas, and the process of elimination of basic, fundamental freedoms is a part of that. The independent media has been the element that has been constantly exposing corruption within government and the election rigging process, that has in the past allowed for some change in power. For that it has become a target for this government,” he told Zitamar.
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