Dar es Salaam. Radio Silence, a film about Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui, was screened here on Thursday ahead of World Press Freedom Day, whose national celebration is scheduled in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar on May 3, 2023.
Organised jointly by the Swiss Embassy and JamiiForums, the film screening took place at the National Museum downtown, drawing participants from Tanzania’s media sector and journalism students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) and the Tumaini University Dar es Salaam College (TUDARCo).
Winner of the 2020 Human Rights Award, Radio Silence tells the story of Carmen Aristegui, described as “Mexico’s most incorruptible journalist,” as she battles Mexican authorities in her daring attempts to keep Mexicans informed about their government’s malpractices.
The film is a product of a four-year work by a Mexico-born filmmaker Juliana Fanjul who followed Aristegui as she fought for an independent press in the North American nation. Interested in power relations in the female environment, Fanjul has also produced Muchachas and Becoming a Black Woman.
“Fear must not defeat us,” Aristegui says somewhere in the 79-minute film released in 2019. The documentary film is in Spanish but fully subtitled in English. “We must not leave room for silence and allow this situation to terrorise journalists.”
Basis for reflection
Speaking shortly before the film screened, Ambassador of Switzerland to Tanzania Didier Chassot described Aristegui as a “courageous” journalist who exposed corruption and human rights violations in Mexico despite facing censorship and harassment.
“The film highlights the importance of the freedom of expression and independent media in governance and accountability,” Mr Chassot said.
He said though the situation in Mexico and Tanzania are not entirely comparable – “far from it” –, “the movie will be a good basis for reflecting on the state of the media and discussing some of those issues which journalists and other media stakeholders are at the time also facing here in Tanzania.”
Since assuming the presidency on March 19, 2021, Samia Suluhu Hassan has engaged media stakeholders to improve press freedom in Tanzania. For instance, she lifted a ban previously imposed on several media outlets and amended the much-criticised online content regulations.
Tanzania’s first female Head of State also launched a discussion with media practitioners around the controversial Media Services Act of 2016, which resulted in the proposed amendment bill, expected to be tabled in the parliament to amend the law.
During a panel discussion followed by the film screening, Fausta Musokwa, a program manager with International Media Support (IMS), an international organisation supporting quality journalism, described the film as “tough” to watch.
“Because seeing the reality of Carmen’s experience and also seeing the context within which she worked was difficult,” Musokwa, who has over seventeen-year experience working in the media development sector in Tanzania, said during the discussion.
“It is difficult to think in the face of all that; how does someone continue to do what she set out to do?” she asked rhetorically.
According to Article 19, an international human rights organisation, journalists in Mexico face harassment, intimidation and violence, with 2022 being the worst year for journalists in the country.
In 2022, the group recorded 696 crimes against Mexican media workers, the highest number since the group started keeping records in 2007. That amounts to nearly one attack against a journalist every 13 hours, Article 19 reported.
Keneth Simbaya, the director of the Union of Tanzania Press Club (UTPC), said the film taught him that people could realise their missions even during a very difficult situation.
“The thing that stood out for me is the public support [that Aristegui received],” Simbaya, a seasoned journalist, explained amidst applause.
“How does that public support come? It comes if – I’m speaking from a media perspective now – the media is giving value to the public,” he added.
When Aristegui and her team were fired from the MVS Radio station, more than 200,000 people demonstrated the next day, signing a petition calling for her return on air and the end of censorship.
They were not returned but established their own online radio network to serve their listeners.
Glory Shayo from JamiiForums commented on the courage Aristegui and her team showed, noting that everyone has a moral obligation to “support journalists as courageous as Carmen [Aristegui].”
See the film’s official trailer here:
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo journalist based in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. He can be reached at email@example.com.