Tanzania once boasted a distinguished lawyer-cum-journalist called Robert Rweyemamu, who served as a syndicated columnist with an upmarket regional fortnightly newspaper.
In an article in the publication’s July 17-23, 1995 issue, he argued that time was long overdue for Tanzania to have what he called “an independent, non-partisan, well-organised forum which will help in producing a polished and jet-set journalist who can walk tall in the local and international arena”.
Meanwhile, revisiting his experience as a journalist in Tanzania in the early 1970s, Kenyan media guru Philip Ochieng had revealing remarks about the operations of the government-owned English-language daily newspaper.
This is part of what he said: “The like of it has been seen anywhere in the Third World… I can report to my readers that here we had a government newspaper which never hesitated to take even (President Julius Kambarage) Nyerere himself to task.
Here was an official paper far freer, far broader in social scope, far more thoroughgoing in its probing into society and far better written from the point of view of language and structure than the ‘freer Press’ before it.”
Both Rweyemamu’s wishes and Ochieng’s observations closely relate to the twin occasions held in Dar es Salaam yesterday. These are World Press Freedom Day celebrations and the launch of Leadership Guiding Principles for African Media Owners and Managers.
It is noteworthy that the latter event resulted from a resolution by media professionals under the auspices of the African Union meant to improve the standard of journalism across the continent.
Equally importantly, the process was spearheaded by the African Media Initiative in collaboration with national media organisations and outlets – for Tanzania, this including agencies such as the national media council (MCT) and the media owners association (MOAT).
The fact that Tanzania was representing an entire continent in launching the principles added colour and weight to the occasion. It also meant the country bearing extra responsibility by being expected to be at the frontline in terms of adherence.
We know the principles are not legally binding, but compliance should not be a problem as it was media owners themselves who asked for them in the first place.
This is a big plus, especially if media managers and the rest of the media fraternity lend them the support they need to work.
Media owners and managers should use the principles as a pad from which to launch efforts to improve relations between them and media practitioners. That would help make media outlets across the continent more buoyant and professional servants of the people.
Walter William, a don at University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in the 1900s, had this for the journalism of his dreams: “I believe that the journalism that succeeds best … is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, quickly indignant at injustice, unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamour of the mob.”
That is the kind of journalism Tanzania – and Africa – ought to aim for too. With the measures being taken, we can make it.