MAPUTO– The Mozambican government has begun to back down over a decree which imposes huge enormous fees on the media and on correspondents and which was to have taken effect on Aug 23.

However, the spokesperson for the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), Culture and Tourism Deputy Minister Ana Comoana, announced here Tuesday that the decree will be socialised, by which she presumably means it will be discussed among stakeholders, before implementation.

Speaking after the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers, Comoana declined to go into any detail, merely saying that there would be new socialisation and consideration amongst all interested parties.

The new licence fees proposed are 800,000 meticais (about 13,600 US dollars, at current exchange rates) for a provincial radio station, a million meticais for a regional radio, and two million for a national radio. Even a community radio would have to pay a fee of 50,000 meticais. For television stations, the fees range from 150,000 to three million meticais.

The fee for publications of an informative nature is set at 200,000 meticais. As for the accreditation of foreign correspondents, the basic fee is set at 100,000 meticais, but a foreign correspondent resident in Mozambique is expected to pay 500,000 meticais. Even freelancers are hit with heavy fees. A Mozambican freelancing for foreign media will be expected to pay 30,000 meticais, while the fee for a foreign freelancer rises to 150,000 meticais.

These fees are unprecedented in Mozambique, and are believed to be the highest in the world. The justification given by the government press office (Gabinfo) is that the fees will guarantee the sustainability of the sector.

In fact, the danger is that such fees will threaten the very existence of independent media, whose budgets are always tight, and may discourage foreign correspondents from visiting Mozambique.

There has been an outcry against this decree from press freedom organizations, within Mozambique and internationally. The Mozambican chapter of the regional press body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) did not pull its punches, describing the new fees as a vile attempt to restrict freedom of expression and of the press.