Censorship is a little like that pornography that the Supreme Curt decided upon – I know it when I see it. So it is in Tanzania with the week long closure of The Citizen newspaper. Their crime was simply to report the reality happening out there in the street. The reason it’s a crime being that the Tanzanian Government under John Magufuli would prefer the citizenry listed to them, the government, rather than observed reality.
And that’s it really:
The Citizen was accused of relaying false information in a recent article on the devaluation of Tanzanian shilling. It reported the US dollar was selling at 2,415 Tanzanian shillings, compared to 2,300 at the central bank’s rate, according to surveys carried out in foreign exchange bureaus and banks. The Statistics Act of 2017 bans any publication of statistical information contrary to the official figures, with possible jail terms for those who do.
Reporting that the foreign exchange rate is not what the government thinks it ought to be closes a newspaper down. Yes, obviously this is censorship. The foreign diplomats are being more than a little mealy mouthed about this:
Diplomats in Tanzania from eight European nations on Friday questioned the decision to impose a week-long closure on a key newspaper after officials accused it of falsely reporting currency exchange rates. The action against The Citizen newspaper follows growing complaints by opposition supporters and civil society groups at what they say are moves to stifle dissent and create obstacles for journalists and rights activists. “Usually, I start the day by reading a number of newspapers, including The Citizen,” British High Commissioner to Tanzania Sarah Cooke wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately, it has been banned in Tanzania for seven days. Is this sanction proportionate to the offence purportedly committed?”
There is no proportionate punishment for reporting reality. It’s one of those either or things – either there is censorship or there isn’t and this is.
After all, it’s not exactly unusual for governments to prevent the publication of information they find unhelpful. We spent most of the 20th century with at least one third of humanity locked into a system where only the approved was able to be published. People went to jail – in extreme cases were shot – for publishing against the official line. For an example of how this works today consider Tanzania. One of the leading newspapers in the country, The Citizen, is currently closed. The crime being publishing something the government would prefer not be published. Actually, to put it into UK terms, publishing a number that disagreed with the Office for National Statistics. The US equality being disagreeing with Census on a number.
We know that the cause of poverty out there these days is bad government, as simple as that. We should suspend aid to those offering such obvious displays of bad government as this sort of censorship. Magufuli’s not a tyrant yet but the emphasis is on that yet…..