Zanzibar — AS Zanzibar passes through economical and political challenges at the time of search for the new union constitution, journalists in Zanzibar have been urged to practise responsible journalism to contribute fully to the development of the 'Government of National Unity (GNU).
Some people have the opinion that the GNU is not doing enough in solving economical difficulties facing the majority poor people and that the debate on the Union has been more a divisive factor than a uniting one in Zanzibar for both local people and leaders.
The division between those for the current Union's structure of two governments and others, who need major reforms, is very clear and even in the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) forums, competition (for and against the current union structure) is evident. People are also asking about collective responsibility and if the GNU's spirit is practical at all levels in the government!
Are leaders in the government putting political party interests first or Should national interest be the priority? Such concerns, according to the Zanzibar Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Mr Ibrahim Mzee, journalists and the media can help people find answers by making analysis aiming at promoting national unity.
He gave the advice at a breakfast discussion on 'The role of journalists in building GNU' in Zanzibar organized by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) at Mazson hotel in the stone town. "As journalists, you have a big role to play in safeguarding GNU. But journalists need to have enough knowledge as to why GNU was formed, its structure, power sharing, unity and challenges facing the running of the government," observed Ibrahim.
He said the road to GNU had been bumpy and the unity government is the best option to keep Zanzibar stable politically, socially and economically, but more efforts are needed to promote the GNU. Mzee recalled that the first, second and third political agreements happened in 1999, 2001 and 2006, respectively before President (retired) Amani Karume and Secretary General of Civic United Front (CUF) Seif Sharif Hamad decided to come together and end hostility from November 2009.
"Fortunately, current agreement has legal backing, but still it will remain crucial for the development of Zanzibar. Media has a change to push for that," he said. The DPP says, "GNU remain fragile, however, only good will and responsible journalism practice, Zanzibaris will continue to live peacefully and work together," as he emphasizes about the importance of a free and independent press in democratic societies.
He said that freedom of the press and expression are basic human rights and they are vital in bringing peace, stability and socio-economic development and also raising the voices of the most marginalised in the Islands. "A free press is more important now than ever before in Zanzibar, as they are needed to play a key analytical role in the absence of official opposition political party in the House," he said, adding that journalists are a bridge between the people and leaders.
The DDP says serious reporters or media, as watchdog, can help the GNU by making analysis and constructive criticism to push for accountability in the public offices, fight against corruption and better well-being. "Well-being includes security. You can evaluate the situation in the country and advise leaders through proper reporting about security. Media is a link between people and the leaders," Ibrahim said.
In his recent statements, former president Karume, said "National unity creates favourable conditions for improving living standard and ensuring prosperity of the islands. We should not go back to the dark ages!" He said that political conflicts caused enormous damage to the islands and that years may be needed to overcome the consequences of those wounds, "but we need concerted efforts to bring peace and prosperity to all people."
Both CCM and CUF leaders including President Jakaya Kikwete admit that bringing the opposite groups (CCM and CUF) around the table and achieving the current peace, stability and national unity, was not an easy job. At the breakfast talk, Mr Suleiman Seif, manager, MCT- Zanzibar joined with Mr Salim Said Salim and Ms Mariam Hamdani, veteran journalists to call for commitments in promoting GNU and avoid divisive language in reporting.
Mr Charles Mwakenja, a journalist, cautioned Zanzibaris not to reply heavily on media in the Tanzania mainland because it may not provide sustainable space for GNU, as Mr Ali Rashid- Media Consultant suggests that Zanzibar should have more media outlets. "Currently, Zanzibar has only one newspaper, radio and TV under the control of the government. FM radios are mainly for entertainments, it is high time we have more newspapers, and electronic media," said Rashid.