No single task is easy in observing laws and regulations on voting day

28Oct 2020
The Guardian
No single task is easy in observing laws and regulations on voting day

AS Tanzanians geared for the General Election today, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) on Monday urged media practitioners to demonstrate integrity, observe ethical guidelines in their reporting so as to safeguard peace and unity.

These affirmations, made by TCRA director general James Kilaba, in a way suggested that the proper conduct of elections and maintenance of peace hugely depended on media conduct. There is a point in that impression, though media stakeholders may have felt their burden was too heavy.

Kilaba has said that existing regulations and laws should be observed throughout the voting and other proceedings. That may have touched beyond the specific task of the media, which summarily is to truthfully and objectively take note, report and broadcast or print what is taking place.

The media don’t predetermine the effects of what they convey as factual reports of what took place, but it is also careful not to add salt - or sugar – to suit their preferences. It is a tightrope when diametrically opposed sides of the political divide equally expect truthful accounts.

There was, for instance, a stern reminder that stern measures will be taken against anyone who will be found violating communication regulations relating to the conduct of the polls.

Similarly, journalists ought to avoid using offensive language as it may stimulate action leading to breaches of the peace, even if such language was used by any stakeholders in the first place.

It is true that media practitioners are important towards a peaceful poll, despite challenges. Journalists are also citizens and constitute ‘the fourth estate’ upon which the state relies to have its point of view taken up and properly communicated to the citizenry.

Other stakeholders also have points of concern that need to be put across so that communication is two-way and informative, whereas effective information on what the other side expects risks belittling what the dominant side wants. It is the proverbial choice between a rock and a hard place, such that either way it is the media that may appear the villain.

But there is still a way out, as noted by Kilaba: that media practitioners should adhere to professionalism during this important period.

That way the task will be easier for TCRA as it continues to monitor all media reportage so as to ensure that every media organ fulfills its duties in line with the country’s laws.

This much the media will definitely be striving to achieve, but just how far it will have been truthful needs restraint from the other sides as well, that the contending point of view has the right to newspaper space and airtime.

It is democracy we are talking of, in which case there will be some fine points of interpretation between TCRA and other statutory bodies where they might differ with media organs.

However, hardly any media organ worth the name can shirk its duties. It will be letting down its customer base and well-wishers, or diminish commercial interest for unfulfilled expectations.

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