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Media Freedom and Climate Crisis in Tanzania

By fostering partnerships between media outlets and environmental experts, journalists can deepen their understanding and confidence in covering climate-related stories accurately and impactfully.

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From May 1-3, 2024, I was honoured to participate in the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) event held in Dodoma. This year’s theme highlighted the vital role of journalism and freedom of expression amidst the ongoing global climate crisis. As an environmental expert, I eagerly anticipated engaging in critical discussions regarding how media freedom amplifies the media’s impact on climate action.

Organisers underscored that climate change stands as one of the pressing challenges of our time, causing adverse effects on ecosystems, economies, and human welfare. Actors at all levels, from local to global, concur that urgent and concerted action is imperative for addressing climate change.

However, my excitement was short-lived. Although all keynote addresses touched on the environmental crisis, none of the exhibitors displayed any material about the theme. None of the eight working sessions included the words environmental and/or climate crisis, and only two sessions discussed environmental crisis. Instead, the event focused on the broader progress towards media freedom in Tanzania.

Even on the first day of the event, which featured a fun run, the opportunity to raise environmental awareness was missed. One participant expressed disappointment, noting that the only mention of the environment occurred when runners littered the starting areas with empty water bottles, prompting the event MC to urge everyone to pick them up.

It puzzled me why everyone overlooked the crucial and timely theme concerning the relationship between media freedom and the climate crisis, especially given the overwhelming evidence of climate change effects in Tanzania. These effects include shorter, off-season, heavier rains and frequent and extended drought periods.

READ MORE: The Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change: Some Take-home Message for Tanzania

I interviewed several media actors at the event to understand why the event neglected to discuss the connection between press freedom and climate action in Tanzania. In this article, I outline their perspectives on the reasons behind inadequate media coverage of the climate crisis, its consequences, and their suggestions for improvement.

Main reasons

Journalists cite three main reasons for their insufficient coverage of the climate crisis: its complexity, financial limitations, and fear of repercussions due to restricted media freedom.

Journalists express frustration that climate change issues are overly technical and riddled with specialised terminology, making them challenging to understand. For example, some journalists mentioned being confused about why the theme refers to an “environmental crisis” rather than a “climate crisis,” uncertain if the two terms carry the same meaning. 

Many noted that despite the abundance of available information on climate change, they struggle to locate the right information they need, or when they do, it’s presented in a manner that’s hard to digest. Consequently, most journalists feel ill-equipped to cover climate change stories effectively. Some have received feedback criticising their content as flawed or superficial, diminishing its utility.

The media sector’s limited financial resources further exacerbate the challenge of covering climate-related events, as they entail considerable uncertainties in terms of costs. 

READ MORE: Harnessing Domestic Resources for Climate Action: Insights from Tanzania’s Extractive Sector

Several actors interviewed for this article elaborated on the logistical and financial challenges they encountered as they travelled to Hanang and Rufiji to report on the recent effects of extreme weather events there. Such catastrophic events destroyed infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, complicating access to affected areas and necessitating spending several days gathering sufficient information.

Journalists also expressed concerns about the possibility of becoming stranded in affected areas without adequate resources for assistance. One organisation detailed the significant expenses and challenges their team faced while gathering content from Rufiji, where they worked tirelessly under difficult conditions, including getting lost in the delta for approximately six hours at one point. 

Another media figure questioned how journalists finance field expenses for reporting climate-related events in remote areas when they struggle to cover transportation costs within urban centres while gathering content.

Journalists noted that concerns persist due to over eight years of active crackdowns and restrictions despite recent improvements in media freedom in Tanzania. These include the revocation of media licenses and the disappearance of journalists who express critical views. 

The overall situation of partial press freedom significantly impacts media coverage of climate change-related issues. For instance, some journalists explained that climate change effects have led to people relocating, causing land disputes. These conflicts have become politically sensitive, with journalists being instructed not to report on them.

READ MORE: Carbon Trading Is a False Solution for Climate Action. Here’s Why

Others lamented that the lack of media freedom prevented fair coverage of landslides in Hanang. “We were directed on where to focus our cameras and whom to interview, effectively silencing many affected communities,” one journalist sadly remarked. 

Additionally, some refrained from sharing content exposing the government’s inadequate action before, during, and after extreme weather events, fearing backlash. In subdued tones, they revealed being “advised” by political elites never to publicise such content.

Numerous consequences

Insufficient media coverage of the climate crisis has numerous consequences, summarising into three main categories: uninformed communities resulting in impaired ability to respond and adapt to climate changes, ineffectiveness in influencing policy and action, and the risk of media becoming redundant or irrelevant.

Free and independent media is crucial in informing the public on important issues. In Tanzania, radio and television have been vital in providing timely and accurate information during catastrophic events since independence, enabling individuals and communities to take appropriate action. 

However, the current poor coverage of climate and environmental crises results in an uninformed or misinformed public, leading to a failure to respond and adapt to climate change effects. 

READ MORE: Stakeholders Gather in Arusha to Demand Accountability on Climate Action

The uncertainty surrounding weather-related events further complicates public trust in the media and the information they provide. Despite this, the press can communicate expected rain and drought season shifts, associated effects, and mitigation measures.

Most journalists stated that they know there have been many opportunities to engage with government decisions and policies on climate action in recent years. However, they generally fail to effectively influence public policy and practice on climate crises because they lack confidence and knowledge. 

As such, the public is not adequately informed by decisions being passed because the media fails to link policymakers and the public. Some actors warned that if the media continues to neglect critical issues like the impending effects of climate change, it risks becoming redundant or irrelevant. 

This could lead the public to view the media as self-serving and incapable of serving the public interest, resulting in a loss of trust and support. This, in turn, could pave the way for narratives justifying media clampdowns, claiming that the media works against the people.

Structural reforms

In conclusion, the nexus between media freedom and climate change coverage in Tanzania underscores the critical need for collaborative efforts and structural reforms. By fostering partnerships between media outlets and environmental experts, journalists can deepen their understanding and confidence in covering climate-related stories accurately and impactfully.

READ MORE: African Women Demand Africa Climate Week: ‘We Refuse to Be Tokenised’

Moreover, improving the financial viability of media entities is imperative to ensure adequate resources for covering these stories, which often entail substantial financial costs.

Lastly, promoting media freedom is essential to empowering journalists to report on climate-related issues fearlessly and without apprehension of reprisals.

Together, these measures uphold journalistic integrity and contribute significantly to raising public awareness and driving meaningful action towards addressing the urgent challenges posed by climate change.

Baruani Mshale is the Director of Learning and Strategy at Twaweza East Africa. He can be reached at or on X as @BMshale. 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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