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Headwinds Media in Switzerland and Tanzania Face

Tanzania and Switzerland are very different countries. Their respective media organisations, however, have one thing in common: they are under pressure.

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The World Press Freedom Day on May 5, 2024, is almost half a year away, which gives me the pretext to raise a question worth posing every day: how is the state of the media? 

I will answer this question using my perspective: I am a journalist from Switzerland who has been working at The Chanzo in Tanzania for two months. I know the media landscape in my home country, and now I can experience another one, Tanzania’s. 

I will use this opportunity to take a hard look at the media in both countries and share that insight with you. The goal is not to judge the respective systems but to highlight the similarities and differences.

How free is the media?

Switzerland’s media enjoy a very high level of freedom. There are, however, limits to that freedom. But let us begin with the positive. The freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution, and the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) puts Switzerland in place 12 in its newest yearly country ranking of 180 countries. The organisation sees the media environment as “satisfactory.”

There is, albeit, room for criticism. Most controversial are the problems journalists face when their work collides with the county’s bank secrecy laws. They can face up to three years in jail if they use bank data obtained illegally. 

READ MORE: ‘Radio Silence’: Film Highlighting the Essence of Press Freedom Screens in Dar

This drastic measure, however, has never been applied so far, and chances are high that it never will be. Journalists can, if prosecuted, argue that the public interest made breaching the law necessary. Nevertheless, the fact that the law exists curtails the liberty of the media.

Tanzania’s media sector operates under very different conditions – international observers take a highly critical stance. “Independent journalists and media outlets are subject to harsh repression,” the US-non-governmental organisation Freedom House writes.

RSF puts the country at place 143 in its latest ranking, citing that politicians own or strongly influence many media outlets. 

Furthermore, “the government systematically blocks access to state-held information of public interest when it concerns security or development issues,” RSF notes, adding that “media outlets and journalists that criticise the authorities risk suspensions and arrest.”

President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been credited with a willingness to improve these conditions. The administration initially showed an openness to hold talks on reforming media laws and regulations, the Media Institute of Southern Africa–Tanzania Chapter (MISA-TAN) noted

However, hopes for reforms have been declining, for although the government amended the controversial Media Services Act of 2016, stakeholders have complained that authorities, to a larger extent, ignored their input.

State’s involvement

The Swiss state only regulates public broadcasting – the principles for which are written down in a separate law. The law also sets the rules for the public media house, for instance, specific quality standards. 

READ MORE: A Free Press Is Vital for Zanzibar’s Development 

While the public broadcaster’s journalistic independence is not seriously questioned, its funding certainly is, as every Swiss household and most companies have to pay a hefty annual fee to finance it – even though a growing part of the population consumes very little of its content, relying on social media instead. 

Switzerland’s biggest political party now wants to slash the levy in half, and there soon will be a national vote on the question. The status quo defenders argue that a strong national broadcasting house is vital for public discourse and a bulwark against the flood of fake news circulating on social media.

Tanzania’s media sector is big and vibrant, especially on the Tanzania Mainland. The government is among the most influential owners of media outlets. In 2020, roughly 20 per cent of the 229 newspapers and magazines on the Mainland were owned by the government or affiliated organisations, according to a report by the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC)

Part of the collection comprises major publishers like the government-owned Daily News or, in broadcasting, the TV and radio stations of the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC).

READ MORE: Swiss Ambassador Tours The Chanzo, Stresses Importance of Free Press

Owning outlets is one way the government influences media coverage. The other is by distributing advertisements: as the state is among the biggest advertisers, many media companies depend on being selected by it. 

And are therefore easily susceptible to attempts by the government to influence its reporting. The GSMC report states: “The government has increasingly used its own advertising buys to whip the media into pushing government agenda.”

Financial state of the media

The private Swiss media houses are under tremendous financial stress. A double tsunami hit them: readership is declining because many people are unwilling to pay for online content, and a growing segment of the population shuns traditional media outlets altogether. 

Second, they lost a significant part of their advertising revenue. Ads that used to be shown in the newspaper or on television now appear on the internet – and the money flows to the US that runs these platforms, like Google, Facebook, and others.

These financial headwinds contributed to the concentration in the media landscape. 

There are only five big publishing houses left, and they are all situated in the German-speaking part, which is problematic in a country with four official languages. New online media outlets also experiment with alternative business models, such as relying on donations.

READ MORE: Ahead of Samia’s UNGA Address, Right Body Calls for Laws Restricting People’s Freedoms in Tanzania to Be Amended

However, the general outlook for media remains difficult – the structural crisis is ongoing.

It is an assessment that also holds true in Tanzania. Here, the media houses are also faced with dwindling advertisement revenues. These streams have shrunk between 50 and 70 per cent in the last six years, as the Dar es Salaam University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) states in a report from 2022.

As in Switzerland, the decline is due to the shift of companies’ spending away from traditional media outlets to online platforms. However, additional factors are in play, according to an analysis by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), such as the “government’s decision to slash its advertising budget as a cost-cutting measure, coupled with the private sector’s shrinking advertising and publicity budget.”

The media houses are trying to find alternative sources of revenue. Organising events is a popular strategy. If these efforts to diversify the income pay off, it remains to be seen – it is undoubtedly a difficult task.

A difficult yet very important task, the crisis in Tanzania’s media sector poses risks to society. It makes the media vulnerable. Politicians and other powerful people could end up dictating the terms of media coverage, the SJMC warns. 

READ MORE: ‘Licensing Requirements Cause Self-censorship Among Media Practitioners’

This could lead to less critical reporting on areas such as human rights violations, corruption, and bad governance.

Common thread

This short – and therefore superficial – analysis of the media landscapes in the two countries reveals a common thread: in Switzerland, as in Tanzania, media organisations are in financial difficulties and are forced to find alternative ways to make money to lessen the dependence on dwindling advertising revenues.

The revenue crisis also poses risks to the independence and the quality of journalism. And this, in turn, poses a danger to the functioning of public discourse, which is vital for democracies. Therefore, that the media find ways out of this financial conundrum should be in everyone’s interest.

Marc Bürgi is a Swiss journalist working as a journalism intern at The Chanzo in Dar es Salaam. He is available at The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

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The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

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