STAKEHOLDERS in the media industry have accused the government of stifling citizens’ right to communicate over the internet by increasing the cost of data and making it inaccessible to the majority, who had become dependent on social media platforms for news.
BY PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
This follows the recent decision by the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to hike the floor price for data to 2c/MB, which is nearly four times the current data charged by mobile phone operators.
Misa Zimbabwe director, Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the new tariffs were an indirect control on social media by the government.
“This is some other means outside legislation by the government to control activities on the web. It would now be more expensive to download stuff from the internet. It would be a whole lot more expensive to do some serious activity over the net,” he said.
The government has since last year been struggling to regulate social media particularly after it was hit hard by a string of anti-government demonstrations organised by social movements such as #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka and Occupy Africa Unity Square.
“This development would have a serious impact on Zimbabweans to freely share information over the internet because it would now be costly,” Ngwenya said,
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe director, Patience Zirima chipped in saying: “The announcement on new data tariffs, I believe, goes against principles of open access, and diversity of media platforms that have allowed citizens to exercise their rights to free expression.
“I believe Potraz should reconsider this directive. The needs and rights of citizens should be balanced with the needs of corporate players and the government.”
But, Potraz director-general Gift Kallisto Machengete defended the fee hike, saying it was meant to protect mobile phone operators.
“Potraz has a mandate in terms of section 4 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act Chapter 12:05 to ensure sustainable and consistent provision of domestic and international telecommunication services. Therefore, the introduction of floor prices will ensure consistent and sustainable long-term provision of services to all Zimbabweans,” he said.