The Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) held the first editor summit during which the issues of journalism ethics and press freedom were discussed. Eroded professional ethics basically refer to misconduct by the journalists themselves while the cry for press freedom entails the gagging of the media by the state.
While I agree there is a serious problem with professional ethics, it is also true the cure for the problems can only be worked out by the journalists themselves. No outsiders can help in that direction without the journalists themselves making a critical analysis of what went wrong and then taking remedial measures.
But my own view on the matter is that the country hardly has editors worth the name. Many of them are no different from the "makanjanjas," who strangely some of them spend valuable time trying to fight.The Right to Information Act is an important piece of legislation, the enactment of which the MCT has championed. But that alone won't be the solution to press freedom without string editors who can dare to withstand the whims of the largely private media owners, who are no lesser enemies of press freedom than the draconian measures of the state.
In fact private media owners are bigger enemies of press freedom than the state because for them, their media empires are part and parcel of influence peddling.The state is still a major actor in the country's media landscape but privately owned media house mushroomed with the liberalisation of the economy as investors found a new business frontier in the media.
The powerful found it fashionable to have a media outlet as a way to peddle influence in society and as an army of fighting their enemies. But the really culprits here are the editors, who can't stand their professional and only answer to the behest of their bosses.Naturally, the first crop of senior journalists and media managers were "poached" from state owned media establishments that had traditionally also served as the training grounds and incubation centres for budding journalists and upcoming personalities with no concern on the impact such policy had on profits.
The entry of private investors with greater emphasis on profiteering than professional nurturing, naturally had an effect on the quality of journalists and journalism in general. People were promoted to ranks where they should not have been to even with a thirty metre pole, yet they were editors!Investment also created job openings but owing to the private sector's obsession with profits, which can only at times be realized under conditions of cheap labour journalism, long respected as the "Noble Profession," attracted all sorts "desperados" in life, who saw it as the cheapest and easiest professional line when everything else in life had failed.
But journalism is not a profession of the stupid.Profiteering also had another casualty in the form of media freedom, which many journalists cherish. But now as servants of capital and tools for profit, journalists often found themselves having to compromise professional ethics as journalism was used to "settle" business and political vendettas. With that culture, corruption seeped into journalism to become a cancerous tumour that literally cannot be removed.
Actually what is so often referred as eroded professional ethics is nothing more than corruption in the industry, which some are not ready to admit.It was against that background that some people thought journalism in the country was practiced without ethics while others lamented the professional cesspools that they had led themselves into, very much like the story of the prodigal son who dined with pigs while his father's servants feasted on sumptuous dishes.
In any case, it was tragic prostitution of professional honour that has come to characterize journalism in the country.There is no doubt that mediocrity highly characterizes journalism in Tanzania today but it is not true that there are no professional ethics. That there are people who know nothing about professional ethics is not the same as to say there are no professional ethics. Daily News, for instance, is one of the oldest newspapers in the region, over 80 years old, and arguably one of the best edited newspapers in East Africa.
And, for years even at the time when it was still privately owned as "The Standard," the paper had a policy of rigorous in-house training that produced world class journalists. Unfortunately, some of the people who failed to gain entry into "The Standard" then based on merit and potential, are today some of the most "respected" media managers in the country.
Similarly, there is a lot of press freedom in the country, in part exemplified by the emergence of tabloids that peddle and thrive on half nudities and the hundreds of FM radio stations whose "broadcasters" go on air without any scripted text.That there is a huge professional void in Tanzania's journalism is quite true.
However, it is not as a result of a lack of media freedom and professional ethics but due to invasion of the profession by impostors, who masquerade as editors.That is the really problem.Journalism is a professional that accepts onboard members of any other profession but the editors are the really professional anchors.
To rebrand the country's journalism therefore, with or without deeper regional integration, Tanzania needs a strong professional association of editors, men and women who would answer to standard qualifications. Of course they can only come from qualified journalists. To blame the country's highly eroded journalism standards on a lack of media freedom and ethics is merely to find convenient scapegoats. The really problem is the mantle. It hardly fits and hardly passed on.