Botswana's government has rushed a law into effect that journalists fear will restrict their work, journalists and opposition politicians said.
The Media Practitioners Act was passed last year, but lawmakers had asked for amendments and it had been expected to go to parliamentary committees for fine-tuning this year.
Instead, the government published it in the official gazette over the holidays, making it law.
"It is a very repressive law because one cannot practice journalism in Botswana without the consent of a Media Council, which excludes media practitioners, publishers or anybody with an interest in the media from its decision-making structures," Thapelo Ndlovu, national director of the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said in an interview this week.
The institute brings journalists together to lobby for media rights.
The new law requires journalists to get the consent of the government media council to work. The council also will have the power to impose fines and even prison terms on journalists it determines have violated standards.
Government officials could not be reached for comment.
The law as it appeared in the official gazette included a passage saying it was designed, among other things, to "monitor the activities of the media" and create a body to "receive any complaints directed against media practitioners."
Botswana already had an independent, self-regulated Press Council.
Dumelang Saleshando, a member of the opposition Botswana Congress Party, said the law "seeks to introduce political control of the media."
"There are also objections to criminalizing certain aspects of journalism and the registration and accreditation of journalists," Saleshando said.