Senior editors convened in Morogoro during the first week of this month for a three- day first editor’s consultative meeting organised by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT).
The writer got an opportunity to attend the meeting as a representative of Media Owners. For a journalist who spent more than 25years of his life in the newsroom but is now watching the practical media scene from the sidelines, listening to editors participating in what one can describe as a three days postmortem turned out to be an important eye opener.
One of the major items on the main agenda was implementation of professional ethics in media houses. This is a loaded item and, as expected, editors took much time to brainstorm on the practice of professional dos and don’ts. Some seasoned editors invited at the meeting opted not to sweep muck under the carpet by openly pointing out that although media outlets have increased significantly, yet performance in terms of form and content leaves much to be desired.
What exactly are local media institutions, in general, and editors, in particular, are accused of if what was raised during the Morogoro encounter and the daily public complaints are taken into account?
Well, at stake is failure by most editors to observe the basics of news and feature story writing before dissemination of such items for public consumption. In schools of journalism worth a name, journalists are taught that stories must be true, accurate, objective, balanced and sensitive to society norms as well as legal implications.
But it was noted that, for one reason or another, sensational, one sided, inaccurate, vaguely sourced and legally problematic stories abound in the local media.
A participant noted that had it not been for the fact many people casually defamed by the media are unaware of their rights and procedures to pursue them, many journalists and media houses would be in trouble most of the time. One of the things which happened at the end of the day is the admission that these weaknesses are a reality and ought to address in the interest of the profession, media houses, and society as a whole.
The much complained about cheque-book journalism, said to be another bad development taking place in the media fraternity, cropped up as well. Few would dare say the accusation is a fabrication made by enemies of the press. The issue here was to explore reasons behind this enemy of professional integrity and how to tame it.
Of course, you have those who noted that it is not easy for some media professionals to be clean in a society corrupt to the core, an idea which must not be entertained for it simply amounts to succumbing to evil. Rationalising corruption as a way of making ends meet in the difficult economic environment is unacceptable as well.
A theme which took some of us by surprise is the allegation that there is a malpractice of sexual exploitation and harassment in media circles, where some senior editors are alleged to have habit of demanding sexual favours from female juniors, including trainees attached to media houses for field-work, in exchange for goodwill and assistance.
Debate on this one was hot, with some editors pursuing the denial line, as others opted for the light touch intervention by claiming that in fact some of the so- called victims of sexual harassment are masters of the art of tempting male colleagues through behavior, dressing style and body language. At the end of the lively controversy, it was agreed that any editor or media owner with integrity should watch his steps on this aspect which has ruined many lives in history, number one victim being the biblical Adam.
Media coverage during election periods is another sub-theme discussed candidly. Much was said, but the shameful malpractice which happened in 2010 where some journalists went to the extent of donning party T-shirts and caps was condemned. The resolution here was that measures should be taken to avoid media sponsorship by political parties on such occasions.
Editors got briefs on a number of developments like progress being made in the crusade for the long awaited appropriate media laws, introduction of code of conduct for media owners and managers in Africa and other issues.
Finally, editors expressed disappointment for failure by the Minister of Information, the Principal Secretary or any other senior officials to turn up for the official opening as promised before, as a sign of support for the initiatives editors are taking to improve the media scene in the country.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant [email protected]