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Journalists Reflect on the State of Media in Tanzania

They say the laws are bad but they should not prevent journalists from living up to their duty of informing the public

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Dar es Salaam. Both journalists and their audiences have agreed that the state of media in Tanzania leaves a lot to be desired, with accusing fingers pointed at a number of culprits including journalists themselves as well as the legal and regulatory environment within which they work.

The views were expressed on Saturday during an evening discussion on Twitter Spaces organised by two journalists Khalifa Said and Sammy Awami with the aim of bringing journalists together to discuss issues that concern them and collectively finding the way forward.

A number of “failures” on the part of Tanzania’s media were mentioned during the discussion, including the failure to do analytical journalism that would help people understand issues happening in the country.

Media were also criticised for failing to cover issues of big national interests, with the issue of Ngorongoro – where authorities are controversially relocating indigenous people to Tanga – given as one example.

Journalists were also criticised for failing to do follow-up stories on issues that are reported on a daily basis, something critics argued affects a person’s ability to be properly informed about those issues and thus not well placed to make the right decisions.

Tom Mosoba is a journalist and editor with the Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) who refused to blame the existing laws and regulations for the failure of journalists to fail to deliver what society expects from them.

“The laws are bad, yes, we know, but we also have got to question ourselves as journalists,” said Mosoba who once served as the Managing Editor for The Citizen newspaper. “Which law prevents a journalist from going down to Ruangwa to look at what’s happening and compare it with the government’s explanation?”

He was referring to the outbreak of leptospirosis in the Ruangwa district, Lindi region where at least three people died and a dozen others infected before the government was able to come up with the name for the disease whose symptoms were nosebleeding and falling down.

“How can a law prevent a journalist from doing some analysis of issues happening in the country?” asked Mosoba. “It is high time that we start looking inwardly and discuss what’s wrong with us, what is this that makes us deliver so little while the public is expecting so much.”

A number of laws are being complained about by journalists and other organisations working in the area of press freedom for their responsibility of creating an unconducive environment for journalism in Tanzania.

These laws include the Media Services Act of 2016; the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (EPOCA), No. 3 of 2010; and the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 to name but few.

In the past six years under the John Magufuli Administration, these laws were extensively used to muzzle press freedom in Tanzania as they were used to suspend, ban and fine media outlets that published content that did not please the government.

But Nuzulack Dausen, journalist and editor with Nukta Africa, an online media outlet, thinks it will be wrong to let these laws stop journalists from doing what the public is expecting from them.

Dausen, who also publishes with Reuters, thinks that there won’t come a time that journalists will be 100 per cent free in Tanzania and so it is important for journalists to learn to do stories that contain minimal dangers.

“There are issues that are so open that even affect journalists themselves but they go unreported,” said Dausen. “I think we should just agree with each other that something is wrong. We should take measures to correct this. We should live up to our duties of informing the public.”

But some journalists think that it is not fair to blame journalists for failing to live up to their duties, with Kwizela Aristide Basebya, a Mwanza-based freelance journalist, saying that journalists “are not soldiers with bullets to shoot at all angles.”

“The entire system is working against us,” said Basebya during the two-hour discussion. “This is not to mention the dire economic situation that many media outlets go through at the moment. All these need to be critically discussed for they contribute hugely to the present situation.”

Elias Msuya, a senior reporter with Mwananchi newspaper, agrees, saying that more efforts need to be invested in forcing the government to repeal all repressive media laws, adding that doing so is the first step towards reforming Tanzania’s media landscape.

Currently, a committee formed by the Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology Nape Nnauye on collecting stakeholders’ opinions on the said pieces of legislation is at work, with stakeholders expecting that the laws will be reformed.

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