For some years now, the Tanzanian media has been the punching bag of various stakeholders, especially within the ruling party as well as the government. Among other things, the accusers say the media is biased, unfair and very unprofessionally managed by ill-trained or untrained journalists.
The accusations have been issued repeatedly for two decades now, but they were echoed again this week by some stakeholders in Dar es Salaam at a function to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Discussing the media situation on Thursday, some stakeholders claimed that today’s media performs more abysmally compared to the 1970s when media outlets were state-controlled. According to the stakeholders, the one-party era controlled media was more analytical and informed than today’s.
It was also claimed that today’s media lacks investigative stories compared to the previous one, which was mainly a mouthpiece of the state as well as the ruling party. This is how some stakeholders in the country view their media now compared to the era of state-controlled media.
While we agree that today’s media faces a number of challenges, including inadequate trained journalists, funds to facilitate the industry, it has to contend with draconian laws and dwindling ethical standards among journalists, we strongly reject the unfair comparison used by some of the critics.
It’s quite unfair and unjustifiable to claim that the state-controlled media of bygone days, which we all know was just a mouthpiece of the government and the ruling party, was better than today’s media. It will certainly not be off the mark to say that those accusing the media in such terms are committed the old sin of sweeping statements or generalization, which is not fair at all to the media.
While we have never claimed to be angels, it would be the height of intellectual dishonesty to be blind to the job we have done during the past decade, which has proved beyond reasonable doubt that a free press is better than the state-controlled one which we used to have in the 1970s.
The very same ill-equipped press has managed to unearth corruption scandals in Tanzania, including the Loliondo scam, the Bank of Tanzania’s External Payments Arrears (EPA) account thievery, BoT’s controversial Twin Towers project, the Alex Stewart gold auditing scandal that finally landed two ministers and a permanent secretary in court, and, of course, the controversial Richmond power scandal which rocked the Kikwete regime to its roots.
Think about the media’s extensive coverage of Tanzania’s mining sector, which finally led the country to have a new modern mining Act in 2010. Think about the boldness of some local Kiswahili tabloids against corrupt politicians and government officials who could never be touched during the state-controlled media era.
The truth of the matter is that most stories which the media reports today would never have seen the light of day in the 1970s and 1980s, not because they were of poor standards, but simply because they would be hammering the government and the ruling party by exposing the wanton rot on their watch.
Despite all the problems that we face as an industry, we have managed to do what even our counterparts in Kenya, a country considered home to a vibrant press, are envious of. A good example is when a highly respected Kenyan journalist and former editorial director of the Nation Media Group decided to take a different view about the Tanzanian media during a discussion in Dar es Salaam.
According to the Kenyan media guru, the Tanzanian media was performing better amid various challenges, including poor knowledge of economic, business and financial issues. We fully agree that we have so many challenges facing us as practicing journalists in this country, but what we don’t understand is unfair and unbalanced accusations issued by our critics.
It would have been helpful if those criticizing us were able to issue solutions to our current problems. For instance, what should be done to curb the dwindling readership in Tanzania? What should be done to improve the training of journalists in this country? How can we improve revenues for the local media?
What our accusers don’t understand is that the quality of the media in this country is a reflection of what we are as a nation. It’s the reflection of the type of society that we have built during the past five decades of post-independence Tanzania. Journalists are part and parcel of the very same rotten society which is steeped in corruption, poverty and poor quantity education.
Tanzanian journalists are not from planet Mars; they are a product of this society where leadership is auctioned at a very expensive price or where students cheat in exams from primary to university levels.
But, despite being part of the very same rotten society, Tanzanian journalists have managed so often to bell the cat by unearthing various corruption scandals, injustices such as albino killings, female genital mutilation and many, many more.