Controlling Facts and Figures
How the Statistics Act limits independent research and journalism
“The Statistics Act of 2015 does not prohibit anyone from processing and producing statistical information but they must do so after consulting with NBS for technical advice and ensure that they adhere by the established methodologies and standards.”
The NBS – the National Bureau of Statistics – has, based on the Statistics Act, the mandate “to collaborate with stakeholders in the processing, production and dissemination of official statistics as well as providing guidance to individuals, institutions, and agencies who want to conduct statistical research that will produce official statistics.”
While these quotes from NBS’ own newsletter of August 2017 sound like a well-intentioned helping hand, it means in plain terms: everybody is free to conduct research – but only allowed to talk about findings or publish data after getting an official permission by the NBS.
Market research agency closed down for months
What happens if you do not oblige to this procedure? The market research agency GeoPoll, the largest provider of daily overnight audience data for TV, radio, and print in Africa, had to learn it the hard way.
In August 2017, GeoPoll had published results of its TV viewership measurement in Tanzania without approval. The NBS Director General responded as follows: “NBS would like to inform the general public and interested statistical stakeholders that the statistics produced by GeoPoll Company on radio listeners and television viewers is not official statistics as the company failed to observe the methodologies and standards stated in the Statistics Act No. 9 of 2015”.
Consequently, the unauthorized publication of audience data led to a temporary shutdown of GeoPoll’s operations in Tanzania.
On 19 April 2018, a joint meeting was convened, attended by GeoPoll’s CEO, the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports of the United Republic of Tanzania, members of the Minister’s staff, representatives from the NBS, and a delegation from GeoPoll. As a result, GeoPoll’s status as a registered licensed company in Tanzania was confirmed and GeoPoll published a press release “The Government of Tanzania Endorses GeoPoll for Research Services in Tanzania” (April 25, 2018).
In September 2018, the Statistics Act was amended (see below), which led to the improvement of some problematic aspects, according to Twaweza.
How the Media Ownership Monitor is affected
Like in the other countries, the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) gathered, validated and analyzed a vast set of data on the Tanzanian media market. MOM selects the most relevant media outlets based on the audience share – as the media outlets with the highest share are considered as those most influential on public opinion. In Tanzania, GeoPoll was used as a major source of credible and comprehensive audience data.
However, we realized that, despite the now enacted amendment of the Statistic Act (see below), publication of audience data might still fall under its purview – precisely under section 24B. While the legal provisions seem vague with little experience on their actual implementation existing, MOM decided to seek official permission from the NBS. Requests were sent per e-mail in calendar week 45, attempts to follow up via phone, per fax in calendar week 46. According to the NBS, it will advise within a week, once they receive a print out of the report. Considering the short notice, the team keeps waiting for an official permission and, in the meantime, decided to black-out audience data on the website. The numbers will be published – just as for the +15 other MOM country projects so far - once the NBS has responded. As all data is available and has been analyzed in detail, trends and tendencies are still visible in our findings as well as in the risk indicator section.
Regardless of NBS’ response, it shall be noted that such a rather unusual practice of controlling the public exchange of research data constitutes, by itself, a high risk to freedom of expression; it limits scientific research and professional data journalism.
What is the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)?
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has been established as an autonomous public office by the Statistics Act, 2015 and has the mandate to provide official statistics to the Government, business community and the public at large. The Act also gives NBS the mandate to play the role as a co-coordinating agency, within the National Statistical System (NSS) to ensure that quality official statistics is produced. Before the enactment of the Statistics Act of 2015, the NBS was one of the Government Executive Agencies, which was established on the 26th March, 1999 under the Executive Agencies Act, 1997.
The President appoints the President, with consultation from the Minister – just like the Chair of the Board.
Background on the Statistics Act 2015
The Statistics Act, 2015 was enacted in 2015, among others, to establish and coordinate National Statistical System. The potential implications for anyone working with statistics in Tanzania, such as those in research institutions, the media and civil society, attracted public criticism. Twaweza mentioned some key challenges:
- Uncertainty in terms of who is allowed to generate statistics and what authorization is required.
- Obstacles to whistleblowing without any public interest protections.
- Severe restrictions on the publication or communication of any contentious statistical information. It makes it illegal (i) to publish or communicate “false” statistical information, and (ii) to publish or communicate statistical information that “may result in the distortion of facts”.
- Penalties for those found guilty of offences under the bill were severe, indeed unlimited.
The Act ignored the fact that disputes around statistics are an essential part of academic and policy debates, and appeared to require those producing or publishing statistics to get prior approval from NBS.
“The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act No. 3 of 2018” addressed some of those challenges.
What has changed with the Amendment Act, No. 3 of 2018?
The Statistics Act was amended when the National Assembly passed the THE WRITTEN LAWS (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) (NO.3) ACT, 2018 on September 10th. Eight provisions were amended: sections 3,17,18,19,20,22,24A and 37.
According to Twaweza, this Amendment led to overall positive changes. It would provide for example a greater clarity on the distinction between official statistics and non-official statistics, defined as “statistical information”. In 22(b) statistical information is defined as ”any organized quantitative or qualitative information obtained from different sources through censuses, surveys or administrative data”, which would apply in case of the Media Ownership Monitor.
- Before disseminating, publishing or communicating official statistics, any person has to seek authorization of the Bureau (NBS). A person, who has different findings from statistics disseminated by the bureau, shall consult the bureau prior to communicating such findings to the public. (Section 24A)
- The Amendment restricts/prohibit a person to disseminate or communicate to the public any statistical information without the approval of the Statistician General. Statistical information, which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit Official Statistics, is prohibited to be published. (Section 24B)
- The Amendment introduces general criminal liability for any person who publishes or cause to be published or communicates any official statistics or statistical information without seeking the prior approval of Statistician General. The consequence can be a fine of not less than ten million shillings (10,000,000/) or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) years or to both. (Section 37 amended by Section 29 of the Act, No. 3 of 2018 by deleting subsection 4, 5 and 6 of the Principle Act and substituting Subsection 4 of Section 37 with new meaning)
- The title “Director General” was deleted and substituted by the tittle “Statistician General”, who is the Chief executive of the Bureau (NBS). (Section 21(a) of the Act, No. 3 of 2018)
- The definition of the word “Official Statistics” was widened to mean statistics produced, validated, compiled and disseminated by or under the authority of the Bureau and also defined further to mean any organized quantitative or qualitative information obtained from different sources through censuses, surveys or administrative data. (Section 3 amended by section 22 of Act No. 3/2018)
- The Statistician General is mandated to commence, vary or discontinue the collection of official statistics conducted through surveys or censuses. No person, Government institution or agency shall authorize the commencement of the collection of official statistics through surveys or censuses except with the approval of the Statistician General. (Section 24 of the Act, No.3/2018 Amended Section 18 of the Principle Act, 2015)
GeoPoll (2018). The Government Of Tanzania Endorses GeoPoll For Research Services In Tanzania. Accessed on 13. November 2018.
National Bureau of Statistics (2017). NBS News Letter Issue No. 28.
The Citizen (2017). NBS warns Geopoll against releasing of unofficial statistics. Accessed on 13. November 2018.