Mozambique wants to ‘control access to information’ with new media laws

0

Parliamentary hearings on proposed new media laws took place last month. Media professionals across the sector argued that the legislation would allow the government to control the press in ways that violate Mozambique’s constitution.

Mozambique’s government wants to replace the country’s current Press Law, in force since 1991, with a new Social Communication Law, covering written media, and a new Broadcasting Law covering radio and television broadcasting. Both laws were approved by the government in December 2020.

If Parliament were to pass the two laws in their current form, Mozambique would become one of the most closed media markets in Africa, DW Portuguese Africa Editor-in-Chief Johannes Beck told Zitamar News

“The government will not be able to justify this seriously and by doing so would only reveal that its aim is to obstruct independent reporting as much as possible,” he said.

Journalist Fernando Lima said he has “serious doubts” that the proposed media laws are intended to deepen democracy, the fundamental rights of citizens and the formal exercise of journalism.

The documents “seem to have been drafted from a police station”, he told parliamentarians in March.

Borges Nhamire, a researcher in Maputo with the think tank Centre for Public Integrity, has no doubt that the government knows this is a step backwards in press freedom, but it wants full control of the public’s access to information.

“The government’s biggest mistake is to continue to look at the press, especially independent ones, as enemies and not as contributors to the strengthening of democracy,” he said. “That is why it creates these mechanisms with the clear objective of interfering in the content to be aired.”

Foreign news shows banned

The proposed Broadcasting Law would prohibit radio and television stations from airing news programmes made by foreign organisations.

This means that news and democracy-building programmes made by foreign broadcasters, such as Germany’s DW, Voice of America, and France’s RFI, will be banned in Mozambique. Foreign broadcasters would also be prohibited from using open signal frequencies, which would make it impossible for broadcasters like the UK’s BBC, and Portugal’s RTP and RDP, to air programmes in the country.

“With the ban on retransmission of political content, Mozambicans would be deprived of many sources of information about events in Mozambique, Africa and the world,” DW’s Beck told Zitamar.

“Currently, DW can rebroadcast its journalistic radio and TV content in all five Portuguese-speaking African countries. Only in Mozambique would this no longer be possible,” he added.

The law would also limit foreign media to only two correspondents to cover the whole of Mozambique, a country of around 800,000 sq. km. This would seriously impact the output of foreign news agencies, like DW, which currently has 15 reporters in Mozambique. Such restrictions would of course mean a “dramatic reduction in journalistic activity,” and make reporting on Mozambique, “much poorer,” said Beck.

Moreover, in the vast majority of countries in Africa, as in the world, there are no limits on the number of foreign media correspondents, he said.

But Emilia Moiane, head of the existing media regulator the Gabinete de Informacao (Gabinfo), told parliamentarians that it is normal for media companies to just have one correspondent in a foreign country.

“In every country … we know the correspondent in the foreign country, because there’s just one. Two at the most,” she said, giving South Africa as an example which, she said, only accepts one foreign correspondent on each media outlet. “And we [in Mozambique]are saying two because we are also looking at television stations, which have a journalist and have a cameraman.”

However, Moiane’s statement is false. South Africa, which is host to the highest concentration of international journalists working on the continent, doesn’t put restrictions on the number of correspondents working for foreign media outlets, as the multiple reporters working for numerous international broadcasters and newswires demonstrates.

If the two laws are passed in their current form, DW will do everything in its power to continue producing news and reporting as comprehensively as possible, including on Mozambican politics, Beck said.

“We would immediately seek new and innovative avenues so that we can continue to provide our audience in Mozambique with independent information, and if the network of correspondents were indeed cut as severely as threatened, we would produce more and more content on Mozambique from abroad” he told Zitamar.

New government-controlled regulator

Among various contentious issues, the draft Social Communication Law would create a new media regulator, managed by the government. Press freedom body Misa-Mozambique, whose head Fernando Gonçalves testified in parliament, argued that it should be parliament that manages the body instead — saying if it is run by the government it would not be independent.

As an entity responsible for guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms, the press regulator should be the exclusive responsibility of parliament, Tomás Vieira Mário, veteran journalist and the president of main state media body, the Conselho Superior de Comunicação Social (CSCS), also told the hearing.

But justice minister Helena Kida told parliamentarians on 31 March that it should be the government that establishes and manages the new regulator, as Mozambique is run under a presidential and not parliamentary system.

It “has a lot to do with the system of governance and, at least the system used in our country, is not the parliamentary system” she said. She said that while the discussion was still open, so far she had heard no convincing arguments that it should be parliament that establishes the media regulator.

However, a government-controlled regulator would be illegal, said Ernesto Nhanale, executive director of press freedom body Misa — as Mozambique’s constitution states that the government and the press should be independent from each other.

“The news media should carry out their duties free from interference from any external interest or influence that could compromise their independence,” he said.

Venâncio Mondlane, a parliamentarian for opposition party Renamo, agrees. “The press is considered the fourth power, which means there should be independence from the executive, legislative and judicial powers,” he told Zitamar

With the introduction of this law, “basically we are going back to the single party times when there was the Ministry of Information which aimed to control and manipulate the content conveyed by the press,” he added.

Currently, the role of regulator is partially carried by Gabinfo, though formally Gabinfo only has a mandate to advise the government on the sector, and not necessarily regulate it.

The new law would also abolish the CSCS, with its limited powers also passing to the new regulator, which would regulate, supervise, monitor and sanction the media, under the new law.

Licence needed for all journalists

The proposed Social Communication Law would also require all journalists to be licenced by the regulator in order to work. 

Goncalves said Misa understands that the professional licence is important to protect the profession from opportunists who may pose as journalists for their own purposes,  but that the licence should not be mandatory to work as a journalist, as reflected in the draft law. It should be “for recognition and not for limitation,” he told Zitamar

Journalist Fernando Lima warned parliamentarians that, given the Mozambican reality in which the authorities persecute people who they call opponents, the professional licence could be a mechanism to formally withdraw professional rights from government nuisances.

The licence will be issued and managed by the Professional Licence Commission, an independent body to be made up of individuals representing different spheres of society, from the judiciary to journalists’ own socio-professional organisations and media companies, according to the chairman of the National Union of Journalists, Eduardo Constantino.

The draft decree on the professional license has already been sent to the prime minister’s office to be approved by the government, according to Eduardo Constantino. The content of the decree was based in the Journalist Statute and the Journalist Code of Ethics and Deontology, he said.

However, as the licence impacts citizen’s fundamental rights, Nhanale said the approval process should be through ordinary law, which requires the approval of Parliament, not via a government decree. The same position was defended by Lima.

‘Troubled context’

The revision of these laws comes in a context in which the Mozambican government is failing to protect the media, and takes no measures against those who threaten and assault journalists, according to MISA. In recent years the organisation said it gas reported “serious violations against press freedom,” including the kidnapping and torture of journalists and attacks on media premises, but that the state had taken no action in any of the cases.

Journalist Amade Abubacar who in 2019 was illegally detained by the army while working as a journalist and accused of having conspired against the state. While he has now been released from prison, his trial is still pending.

On 7 April it will be two years since the disappearance in Cabo Delgado of journalist Ibrahimo Mbaruco who, in his last message sent to one of his colleagues, stated that he was “surrounded by soldiers”.

In Maputo, the journalist and executive editor of the weekly newspaper Canal de Moçambique, Matias Guente, has a battery of cases in court. 

Heads of independent media outlets continue to be insulted and threatened online. And in 2018, the government passed  a decree to levy exorbitant fees on journalists and domestic and foreign media outlets. Heavy pressure forced the executive to reverse the law.

In February the Mozambican Network of Human Rights Defenders wrote a letter to Nyusi in which they called for his urgent intervention to restore legality and hold accountable those involved in campaigns of incitement to hatred, violence and intolerance in the Mozambican public sphere, mainly against academics, human rights defenders, social activists, journalists, independent media and civil society organisations.

© 2021, Zitamar LTD. All rights reserved.

Share.

Leave A Reply