The business environment in Tanzania is still fraught with a number of challenges, among which are issues relating to legal and regulatory frameworks, unreliable power supply and economic infrastructure such as roads. However, the situation is not hopeless, as it can be improved through joint efforts by various stakeholders, including the mass media fraternity.
A recently released study titled 'Evaluating the Quality of Business Journalism in Tanzania’s Newspapers-2012' observes that the media has not done enough in advocating business environment reform by the relevant authorities, including the government.
For example, the study cites lack of skills in, and understanding of, business coverage among journalists as being some of the reasons behind poor reporting on business-related news and other developments.
The report observed an increase in biased reporting, with apparent polarization of opinions, and general lack of objectivity in reporting business news.
The study, which was conducted by Serengeti Advisers Ltd, as commissioned by the Business Environment Strengthening Tanzania-Advocacy Component (BEST-AC) notes that, while there has been some improvement in business reporting as represented by language and structure, there has nonetheless been deterioration in substance in terms of neutrality, as well as numbers and types of sources compared to the findings of the study conducted in 2011.
According to the latest study, the 'Number of Sources Indicator' score fell to 53.5 per cent, from 69 per cent in 2011, while the 'Types of Sources' score deteriorated from 37.7 per cent in 2011 to 26 per cent in 2012.
Furthermore, the 'Neutrality' score dropped very significantly from last year, to a low of 30.6 per cent. The depth also dropped.
“This suggests that, while some form of the articles has improved, their function to inform and provide insight into and analysis of the subject have deteriorated,” reads the study report in part.
The study also observed that the overall state of Tanzanian business journalism appears to be bunched around a mean, without significant overall variance.
It also observed that business reporting in the Swahili language press is of a lower quality than that in the English language press. The average score for the Swahili press was 14.13 ('Poor'), while that for the English press was 17.82 ('Average').
“This is consistent with the widely-shared view that the Swahili press tends to focus much more coverage on politics, and does a relatively poor job of covering business news, thus presenting a serious challenge, since the majority of the readership in Tanzania gets its news from the Swahili press,” say the study authors.
Presenting the findings of the study to media stakeholders recently, an Economist with Serengeti Advisers Ltd, Aidan Eyakuze, said that BEST-AC commissioned a preliminary analysis of the media sector in Tanzania in 2008 to identify key constraints in the mass media with a view to enabling it to play a more effective role in business environment reform.
Eyakuze said the analysis found major weaknesses in three main actors in the reform process, namely the media, the private sector and the government.
In the media sector, the major constraint was a lack of business coverage particularly in the Swahili press. The extant coverage tended to focus on corporate and international business, as well as economics… There was also a singular lack of skills, innovation and understanding of business coverage among journalists, media managers and media owners, Eyakuze explained.
He further noted that the study also established that private sector organisations lacked the skills and structures needed to undertake effective media relations, as well as the use of media information dissemination and lobbying.
The study says that, despite the establishment of Information, Education and Communications units within government ministries, departments and agencies (MiDAs), the government still lacked the will and commitment to effectively interact with the media.
Following identification of the weaknesses, Eyakuze said, BEST-AC set out to support the capacity of private sector organisations and the media to communicate effectively on private sector issues.
To measure the progress and impact of its interventions, BEST-AC commissioned an independent review of the quality of business coverage in Tanzania's leading daily newspapers on an annual basis since 2009.
In the event, Eyakuze challenged the media stakeholders to think differently about news, rather than thinking more about survival!
“We are thinking more about survival, rather than about transformation…We have to think differently about news …We need to know what our clients want, and how we could get more people to buy our products; otherwise, we will become irrelevant,” he admonished.
He also stressed the need to improve training and coaching for middle age journalists in efforts to effectively address the shortfalls indicated in the study.
In similar vein, Asterius Banzi from the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) called upon media owners to invest in training of their editors and business reporters in order to improve business reporting in the country.
Since there were Sports and News Desks in newsrooms, it was advisable to also establish a Business Desk in the newsroom as a matter of course, Banzi counselled.
Contributing to the 'debate,' the Secretary of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF), Neville Meena, said it was high time that the media improved training, particularly for business editors and reporters.
Along with conducting the training, Meena said, managing editors had the responsibility to ensure they establish a Business Desk in the newsroom - as has been the case for Sports and News.
Meena also said that, after establishing a Business Desk, identified business reporters should be suitably trained and otherwise primed for the job.
Noting that the lack of the Business Desk system is more serious among Swahili language newspapers than is the case with English language newspapers, Meena challenged media organs as a whole to improve the situation.
Meena, who is also the News Editor for Mwananchi newspaper based said studies of this nature were important for the prosperity of the media industry in general, since they scrutinize and reveal the shortcomings in the sector, and point out what needs to be done by way of improvement.
A veteran Tanzanian journalist of no mean stature, Jenerali Ulimwengu, says English language newspapers report business news more seriously than the Swahili press. This, he noted, is partly contributed to by the problem of generally regarding Swahili as a language of little or no importance!
Noting that a lot of nonsense is being tolerated in the Swahili press than in the English press, Ulimwengu said this was because people think that the Swahili press is trash. However, the Swahili press can be a serious press, as much a source of information as the English press if journalists engage in serious thinking, and conduct serious investigations into various issues.
Ulimwengu, however, noted that the business model is changing very fast, and that the media has to cope with the changes.
People have changed from the culture of waiting for the newspaper to come out tomorrow so they could read the news; but, nowadays, they can access the news and other information on an hourly basis through their mobile phones and other state-of-the-art technologies, Ulimwengu said, stressing that the media has to also , migrate technologically by doing a lot of their business on-line.
“We need to start moving now by combining printing with on-line publishing,” Ulimwengu insisted.
He, however, noted that reporting on figures is one of the major weaknesses among Tanzanian journalists, especially when reporting on natural disasters, data from the Central Bank, etc.
He cited as an example the tragedy of the 'Spice Islander' which sank at sea off Zanzibar, saying the media reported it as if it were similar to that of the 'Titanic' which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US, with a loss of 1,502 lives. It wasn't!
Contributing to the session, Shelmasi Ngahemela from 'The African' said access to information was a serious issue in Tanzania, where the media industry is already very competitive. He noted that it was sometimes very difficult to get as many sources as one would have wanted and in time to meet deadlines!
The BEST-AC Project Manager, Hans Determeyer, said the media are key allies who play an important role in communication skills, especially when it comes to people’s involvement in various social and economic issues.
“If you want things to improve, and businesses to grow, you need to get all the people involved… It is not just a discussion between private sector organizations and important business people and government. It is the Tanzanian nation that is growing,” he said, adding that “we need to inform people and, that way, you get more inputs from people and other organisations. So, communication is very important; and the media is one of the key allies.”
According to Determeyer, having known the challenges of running the media, it is not so easy to manage a programme, especially for radio that will capture the audience and be cost-effective.
Admitting that the Tanzanian economy was small, relatively speaking and with about 70 per cent of the population living close to the poverty line, Determeyer said this provides a major challenge especially for the print media which depends on people to buy newspapers!
In that regard, he said, BEST-AC does interact with the mass media to see how it can improve its performance in general, and that of media workers.