Nigerian lawmakers have proposed legislation that would hit Internet users with steep fines or jail time for spreading what authorities decide is 'fake news'.
Under what is known as the social media bill, which the Nigerian Senate advanced last week, police could arrest people whose posts are thought to threaten national security, sway elections or diminish public confidence in the government, according to the
Authorities could also cut the Internet access of those that violate the regulation.
Nigerian social media users are widely condemning the new internet censorship proposal.
The Tanzanian media censor has banned female rapper Rosa Ree from performing for six months, claiming her recently released music video went against the country's' morals.
The censorship body that regulates the arts industry in Tanzania, Baraza la Sanaa la Taifa (Basata), added that the song Vitamin U which the rapper performed with her Kenyan musician boyfriend, Timmy Tdat, also contravened its regulations.
The suspension means Rosa Ree will also not be allowed to perform outside the country and will have to pay a $870 (£675) fine, The Citizen newspaper reports.
The original video that offended the censors has now been taken down and replaced with an 'official' version which blurs all the shots showing Rosa Ree with her own or Timmy Tdat's hands holding her breasts. This censored version has score about 220,000
views. The uncensored version is available on Pornhub.
South Africa's Films and Publications Act, also known as the Internet censorship Bill, came into force when president Cyril Ramaphosa signed the controversial Bill.
Opponents of the law had criticised the vague and broad terminology used; stipulations that would see the Film and Publication Board overstepping into the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's regulatory jurisdiction; and that it
contains constitutional infringements on citizens' right to privacy and freedom of expression.
The new law provides for the establishment, composition and appointment of members of an enforcement committee that will, among other tasks, control online distribution of films and games.
The law extends the compliance obligations of the Films and Publications Act and the compliance and monitoring functions of the Film and Publication Board to online distributors.
A an oppressive censorship bill has been tabled in the Kenyan parliament targeting social media group admins and bloggers.
MP Malulu Injendi has tabled The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill 2019 which specifically targets group admins, who will be used to police the kind of content shared in their groups.
The Bill defines social media platforms to include online publishing and discussion, media sharing, blogging, social networking, document and data sharing repositories, social media applications, social bookmarking and widgets. The bill reads;
The new part will introduce new sections to the Act on licensing of social media platforms, sharing of information by a licensed person, creates obligations to social media users, registration of bloggers and seeks to give responsibility to the Kenyan
Communications Authority (CA) to develop a bloggers' code of conduct in consultation with bloggers.
The Communications Authority will maintain a registry of all bloggers and develop censorship rules for bloggers.
The proposed bill means that all group admins on any social platform will be required to get authorisation from CA before they can open such groups. The bill also states that admins should monitor content shared in their groups and remove any member that
posts inappropriate content. The admins are also required to ensure all their members are over 18 years old. Group admins will also be required to have a physical address and keep a record of the group members.
A petition in Kenya was signed by 51,000 people seeking to ban any content by Disney from showing in Kenya.
The petition cited the examples of Frozen 2 and Beauty & the Beast whose inclusion of gay characters was referred to the films being laced with gay connotations and sexual undertones not suitable for children.
The petition also cited a gay pride parade held at the Disney theme park in Florida .
However, the Kenyan film censor Ezekiel Mutua said his team had combed through the trailers of the contentious movies and couldn't identify areas that would warrant a total ban. He added that the board would only make a decision on the movie for its
release on November 22, 2019.
A Tanzanian bill was made public on June 19, proposes several changes to the country's censorship laws.
One proposed amendment would remove the current ban on publishing information that could discredit official statistics, but would add an onerous approval process for those wishing to challenge government data or publish non-official statistics, with
criminal penalties for non-compliance.
The bill also establishes a statutory film board, which would have the power to censor films exhibited in the country, and add a requirement that all foreign companies shooting films in Tanzania, including documentaries, submit raw footage of their work
to the board.
The bill, formally known as the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No3) Act, 2019, is dated May 30, but was not released for public review until June 19.
The South African Law Reform Commission is debating widespread changes law pertaining to the protection of children. Much of the debate is about serious crimes of child abuse but there is a significant portion devoted to protecting children from legal
adult pornography. The commission writes:
SEXUAL OFFENCES: PORNOGRAPHY AND CHILDREN
On 16 March 2019 the Commission approved the publication of its discussion paper on sexual offences (pornography and children) for comment.
Five main topics are discussed in this paper, namely:
Access to or exposure of a child to pornography;
Creation and distribution of child sexual abuse material;
Consensual self-child sexual abuse material (sexting);
Grooming of a child and other sexual contact crimes associated with or facilitated by pornography or child sexual abuse material; and
Investigation, procedure & sentencing.
The Commission invites comment on the discussion paper and the draft Bill which accompanies it. Comment may also be made on related issues of concern which have not been raised in the discussion paper. The closing date for comment is 30 July 2019.
The methodology discussed doesn't seem to match well to the real world. The authors seems to hold a lot of stock in the notion that every device can contain some sort of simple porn block app that can render a device unable to access porn and hence be
safe for children. The proposed law suggests penalties should unprotected devices get bought, sold, or used by children. Perhaps someone should invent such an app to help out South Africa.
The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) chief censor Ezekiel Mutua has officially banned the viral song dubbed Takataka by upcoming rapper Alvin aka Alvindo.
Mutua blacklisted the song claiming that it is obscene and has degrading lyrics that advocate for violence against women by equating them to trash. Mutua described the song as primitive and abusive saying that the song has crude lyrics that
objectifies women and glorifies hurting them as a normal reaction to the rejection of overtures by men. He added:
KFCB will institute criminal proceedings against the artist in 14 days if he fails to respond to our summons for a meeting where he can be accompanied by his lawyer.
Mutua added that the song was never submitted to the board for classification in the first place while urging artists and media houses to create and exhibit content that builds society.
Broadcasting, exhibition, distribution (including online) or possession of 'Takataka' is a criminal offence. This song should not be performed live or broadcast anywhere within the Republic of Kenya, said Mutua.
The song currently has 1 million views on Youtube .
Burundi has banned the BBC and indefinitely suspended Voice of America. The country's TV censor revoked BBC's licence and accused it of airing a documentary that it said was false and damaged the country's reputation. The censor also banned local
journalists from working for the BBC or Voice of America.
The BBC aired the documentary in May last year about what it said were secret detention and torture sites in Burundi. The BBC stands by the contents of this programme.
South Africa's National Assembly has officially passed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, with the bill now scheduled to be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for assent.
The bill extends film censorship to online content and appoints The Film and Publications Board (FPB), the country's film censors, as arbiters of internet censorship of hate speech, revenge porn and website blocking.
Some of the other notable changes include:
Revenge porn: Under the bill, any person who knowingly distributes private sexual photographs and films without prior consent and with intention to cause the said individual harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction.
Hate speech: The bill states that any person who knowingly distributes in any medium, including the internet and social media any film, game or publication which amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate speech,
shall be guilty of an offence.
Website blocking: If an internet access provider has knowledge that its services are being used for the hosting or distribution of child pornography, propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocating hatred based on an identifiable
group characteristic it shall immediately remove this content, or be subject to a fine.
According to Dominic Cull of specialised legal advice firm, Ellipsis, the bill which is on its way to president Cyril Ramaphosa is extremely badly written. He notes that the introduction bill means that there is definite potential for abuse in terms of
infringement of free speech .
One of my big objections here is that if I upload something which someone else finds objectionable, and they think it hate speech, they will be able to complain to the FPB.
If the FPB thinks the complaint is valid, they can then lodge a takedown notice to have this material removed.
These sentiments were echoed by legal expert Nick Hall of MakeGamesSA, who said:
The big question around the bill has always been enforceability and the likelihood of the FPB to do anything with it. Practically, are they going to go after small-scale YouTubers? No, probably not, as they don't have the means to do so.
Instead, my concern has always been that the legislation becomes a tool for them to use censorship.
Despite the prevailing porn ban in Uganda, it can safely be said that pornographic materials and information has never been more consumed than now. The latest web rankings from Alexa show that Ugandans consume more pornographic materials and information
than news and government information, among other relevant materials.
The US website Porn555.com is ranked as the 6th most popular website in Uganda, ahead of Daily Monitor, Twitter, BBC among others.
The country's internet censors claim to have blocked 30 of the main porn websites so perhaps that is the reason for porn555 to be the most popular rather then the more obvious PornHub, YouPorn, xHamster etc.
The number of people using the internet in Uganda has dropped by 26% since July 2018, when the country's social media tax was put into force. Prior to the tax's implementation, 47.4% of people in Uganda were using the internet. Three months after the tax
was put in place, that number had fallen to 35%.
ISPs charge an additional 200 Ugandan shillings (UGX) in social media tax on top of the ISP access fees and standard sales tax. This is nominally 5.4 US cents but is a significant portion of typical Ugandan incomes.
President Yoweri Museveni and several government officials said this was intended to curb online rumor-mongering and to generate more tax revenue.
The tax was the subject of large-scale public protests in July and August 2018. During one protest against the tax, key opposition leader, activist and musician Bobi Wine noted that the tax was enforced to oppress the young generation.
The government expected to collect about UGX 24 billion in revenue from the tax every quarter. But in the first quarter after the tax's implementation, they collected UGX 20 billion. In the second quarter, ending December 2018, they had collected only
UGX 16 billion.
While some people have gone offline altogether, others are simply finding different and more affordable ways to connect. People are creating shared access points where one device pays the tax and tethers the rest as a WiFi hotspot, or relying on
workplace and public area WiFi networks to access the services.
Other Ugandans are using Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to bypass the tax. In a statement for
The Daily Monitor , the Uganda Revenue Authority's Ian Rumanyika argued that people could not use the VPNs forever, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
In addition to leaving Ugandans with less access to communication and diminished abilities to express themselves online, it has also affected economic and commercial sectors, where mobile money and online marketing are essential components of daily
Uganda's government has been rattled by the popularity of pop star Bobi Wine who has become an opposition politician after amassing a large following amongst the country's disillusioned youths.
The government has now proposed a new censorship law vetting new songs, film and stage show scripts. In addition artists will have to seek state permission to perform abroad.
Musicians and other artists will also have to register with the government and obtain a practicing license which can be revoked for a range of violations.
Peace Mutuuzo, junior minister for gender, labor and social development, told Reuters in an interview the new regulations to govern the music and entertainment industry were already drafted and expected to be passed by cabinet by March.
Africa's landscape of online free speech and dissent has gradually, but consistently, been tightened in recent years. In 2018 in particular, the cost of speaking out -- both legally and economically -- was on the rise across the continent.
This past year, the imposition of taxes and licensing fees on social media use and blogging in countries like Tanzania and Uganda made it more costly for Africans -- especially those living in poverty -- to communicate, seek information and conduct
Internet shutdowns remained a threat in times of public unrest or political transition, like elections. Chad , the Democratic Republic of Congo , Ethiopia and Mali all experienced government-ordered internet shutdowns in 2018 that ran for several hours
or a few days. And the now infamous shutdown in Cameroon claimed the world record for the longest known internet shutdown, after running discontinuously for a cumulative total of 230 days from January 2017 until March 2018.
And the arrest of journalists persists. In recent years, media workers have been jailed on charges ranging from publishing false information to exposing state secrets to terrorism .
Taken together, these three types of state control over internet access and use have made sub-Saharan Africa a place where the cost of using the internet -- and the political risks of using it to speak out -- have become too high for many citizens to
undertake. Promises of intellectual and economic empowerment heavily touted by international and intergovernmental organizations are becoming a pipe dream for too many people on the continent.
In 2018, the governments of Uganda , Zambia and Benin imposed new taxes on social media users, leaving them struggling to pay new fees on top of already-costly internet service. Alongside an apparent desire of government leaders like Ugandan President
Yoweri Museveni to quell online gossip , these tax policies stem from a long-standing frustration with Internet-based communication applications, such as WhatsApp. Typically foreign-owned and free of charge for anyone with internet access, government
actors long argued that these apps cause revenue losses for national telecom operators who were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services.
At this stage in sub-Saharan Africa's telecommunications development, tools like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have become the dominant applications for person-to-person communication for families and businesses and distributing public alerts during
emergencies. Making them more expensive may drastically reduce citizens' ability to communicate with one another, affecting many facets of social interaction and productivity. For some citizens, the tax will cut off access entirely.
When I interviewed women living in Bwaise, a slum in Kampala, I learned that for them, WhatsApp and Facebook are the internet. These are the only platforms they know how to use. So with the new tax, they will be cut off altogether.
Meanwhile, in Tanzania and Mozambique , new taxes have been introduced for bloggers and small publishers that could drive many of them out of business. Tanzania's so-called blogger tax requires bloggers and independent website owners to register and pay
roughly $900 USD per year to publish online. Mozambique's new scheme will assign licensing fees of up to $3300 USD for Mozambican journalists working independently.
Tanzania's new policy led to the temporary closure of Jamii Forums , which has been dubbed both the Tanzanian Reddit and Swahili Wikileaks -- creating big waves on the Tanzanian social media scene.
All told, these licensing and taxation schemes create economic and civic barriers that will have significant consequences for journalism, communication, commerce and free speech in the region.