New Twaweza report justifies ‘watchdog’ role of the media

02Dec 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
New Twaweza report justifies ‘watchdog’ role of the media

OVER 65 per cent of citizens are in support of the media’s role in helping them to hold government accountable, according to a study carried out by Twaweza—an advocacy NGO based in Dar es Salaam.

The report is an outcome of research conducted by Twaweza a few days after President John Magufuli signed the controversial new Media Services Act into law.

It was based on data from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi and Afrobarometer programmes.

According to Afrobarometer, the majority of citizens (65 per cent) agree that the media should report on government mistakes and corruption, while three out of 10 think that doing so harms the country.

Eight out of 10 citizens think that the media are effective in carrying out this role, while 2 out of 10 think they are not effective.

Just over half of the citizenry (53 per cent) also think the media should be free to report on any story, while 4 out of 10 think the government should be able to close down newspapers.

Similarly, 7 out of 10 citizens think the media never or rarely abuse their freedom by reporting things they know are not true.

The study reveals that citizens also have strong support for freedom of expression and access to information. Almost all citizens (95 per cent) think they should be free to criticize the government whenever they believe it has done something wrong.

The majority of citizens also support democracy more generally. Recent Sauti za Wananchi data (September 2016) show that 69 per cent see democracy as preferable to any other form of governance.

This support is also shown in Afrobarometer’s latest dataset (2014) in which 79 per cent of citizens said democracy is their preferred type of governance system and 81 per cent agreed they should choose their leaders during elections.

Access to information is also important to citizens. Eight out of 10 citizens (77per cent) agree that ordinary citizens should have access to public information held by the government; while far fewer (23 per cent) think only civil servants should have access to that information.

Citizens are clear on why they value access to information; 80 per cent agree that providing information to citizens will help to cut down on corruption, while 20 percent think public servants would just find new ways of hiding their wrongdoing.

In further support of their right to access government information, almost all citizens (92 per cent) think it is important for parliamentary sessions to be aired live and 8 out of 10 (79 per cent) disapprove of the government’s decision to ban these broadcasts.

Almost all wananchi (88 per cent) also agree that parliamentary broadcasts should be aired irrespective of the costs involved, while 12 percent agree that channeling expenditure to other areas is a good reason not to air parliamentary sessions.

These data were drawn from the most recent Afrobarometer findings for Tanzania and various rounds of the Sauti za Wananchi mobile phone survey.

According to Twaweza executive director Aidan Eyakuze said, the year 2016 has been a challenging one for access to information and freedom of expression in the country.

“Live broadcasts of parliamentary debates were stopped. Several citizens were charged under the Cybercrimes Act for expressing their opinions, and a potentially draconian Media Services Act was signed into law,” Eyakuze noted.

He added: “Our data reveal that citizens value and support three crucial pillars of a vibrant democracy: an independent media, freedom of expression and access to information. Citizens also have a sophisticated understanding of the trade-offs between these freedoms, and the dangers of a completely unregulated media.”

“Citizens’ views must be respected. As the Media Services Act becomes law, we urge maturity, restraint and moderation in its application.”

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