COLLECTING news from government sources continues to be difficult in Tanzania today, simply because some sources refuse to reveal information for reasons best to known to themselves.
For example, a key police source recently refused to comment on a story that a journalist was making a follow-up, concerning sodomy in one of the city-based primary schools. The Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The article states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
However, a number of provisions give some restrictions to the media houses. These include restricting a media outlet to broadcast news that exploit differences based on colour, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability or that fan hatred. Article 19 also says that Radio, Television and Internet stations must abide by professional code of ethics, social values and Tanzanian culture. The article insists that Radio and Television programmes should promote peace, unity, togetherness and national security.
"Languages to be used in radio and television broadcast in the country is English and Swahili. Private-owned Radio and Television stations must participate fully in national building and in national campaigns and disasters", says the article in part. Internet service providers are also told to shield children from negative effect of internet.
Since Tanzania attained its independence in 1961, the government has been striving to make sure that the media works independently, though there have been some hurdles here and there. President Nyerere collaborated well with journalists and he trusted them. No wonder he proposed a former editor, Benjamin Mkapa, to become a president. Nyerere often called journalists in his house and discussed with them a number of national issues. His successor Ali Hassan Mwinyi respected the media.
Most media houses were established during his reign and he was tolerant even when he was criticized. A cartoon that depicted him dancing at the national stadium while the sick were dying at Muhimbili national Hospital was rather humiliating, but he never accused the editor of that particular Newspaper. President Kikwete has also been tolerant, even when negatively reported by some sections of the media. He has created good working relationship with both the private and public media.
Some columnists have criticized him as they want, but he has not intimidated them. The media has been playing its role in this country effectively, and when some politicians or other office bearers have gone wrong, the media has not hesitated to raise its voice. For example, the plan by the National Assembly to stop live coverage of parliamentary proceedings took a bashing from politicians, activists and media stakeholders early this year. The move was roundly condemned as an attempt to deny Tanzanians the right to information.
Instead of spending its time and energy censoring coverage of parliamentary proceedings, the government was advised, it should seriously address socioeconomic problems facing people. The Executive Secretary of the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), Mr Kajubi Mukajanga, responded that the surest way was to ensure that Members of Parliament are exposed to their electors rather than shield them. "With the Bunge leadership accused of partisanship, who will trust such broadcasts?" he asked.
"Where is the credibility?" Mr Mukajanga further wondered: "Are we heading towards censorship? Will there be manipulation of information? What will be allowed to go on air and what will not be allowed? And, if an MP were to express opinions that are not favourable to those 'editing' in the Bunge office, will they be allowed to go on air?" The Clerk of the National Assembly was missing the point, he added, because the people wanted to know exactly how their legislators behaved.
It was after that reaction that the Clerk of the Tanzania National Assembly, Dr Thomas Kashililah, had to clarify on the reported proposal to ban live broadcasts of House proceedings. He issued a statement that said the National Assembly had not proposed to ban live coverage but instead will not allow television and radio stations to pitch camp and install equipment inside Parliament premises. He noted that all who want to transmit live House proceedings will have to get clear feed from Parliament which will allow them to go on air live.
This will mean that all independent stations will have to make do with what Parliament will feed them to air proceedings live. Dr Kashililah added that his office would be engaged in the implementation of a comprehensive information delivery scheme to reach all at their respective capacities. "Through improved communication technology, we (parliament) have started airing live video stripping through the parliament website and full debate in parliament is accessible to all," read part of the statement.
"As for those capable to capture radio transmission, they can link up with the Bunge Radio scheduled for inauguration shortly with nationwide coverage in addition to reporting aired by TBC 1, BBC, STAR etc," the statement further said. He stressed that the current arrangement will continue and all TV stations permitted to air the proceedings live will do so without restrictions. "This is part of the agreement between Bunge and the Tanzania Communication and Regulatory Authority (TCRA)," he said.
Tanzania Editors' Forum (TEF) became the latest voice disagreeing with the proposal to ban live broadcasts of House proceedings. The editors called on the National Assembly to revisit the position, saying that it would affect the growth of democracy in the country. Addressing journalists in Dar es Salaam , the Chairman of TEF, Mr Absalom Kibanda, said that implementation of the plan would hinder assessment of people's representatives in the parliament.
"TEF believes that broadcasting work is not supposed to be supervised by the parliament," he said. It should be noted that Tanzania is one of few countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the press is predominantly presented in the official and national language of the country, which happens to be Kiswahili. It is here where the readership is fully literate in that language. There are reasons for this, that is exclusive to Tanzania, as the country has experienced historical events that have not occurred elsewhere.
Article 18 of the Constitution guarantees every Tanzanian the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Newspaper Act of 1976 allows authorities within the government -- including the president -- the power to prohibit publications that might be deemed to not be in the nation's best interest. Additionally, the 1993 Broadcasting Services Act provides that private broadcasters are only allowed to send their signals to 25 per cent of the country. Tanzanian newspapers have been reasonably aggressive in their reporting.
They feel quite free to complain about bureaucratic inadequacy, and social conditions. They go so far as to discuss democracy in principle. They are more careful in questioning the government in power. They might express a preference for one government minister over another. They are more concerned about the frequency of these complaints than they are an occasional exposure of a scandal. Despite censorship issues, many papers still attempt to expose and criticize political events and personalities. For example during President Julius Nyerere's tenure, religion was off limits.
The country was and is still secular, without favoring any religious beliefs. Nyerere used to say Tanzania has no religion but its people have their own religions. Ethnicity is yet another subject papers avoid where possible. President Nyerere's legacy of a unified and uniform nation remains strongly entrenched in the country.
A significant factor pertinent to the press in Tanzania is its readership. The expatriate communities and the educated and westernized elite of the society, and the "Asian" community mostly read English language newspapers and periodicals. Tanzania -- with 20 private radio stations -- has a comparatively well-developed television and radio programming system. However, the only radio transmission which goes countrywide is Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC).
Only 25 per cent of the country receives broadcasts from private radio stations. Swahili is again strongly promoted but not at the expense of English. The promotion or prominence of Swahili is usually at the expense of Tanzania's other indigenous ethnic languages. Swahili is not squeezed in between English language programmes. There are Swahili language radio stations alongside English language ones. There is a reasonably wide distribution of television sets and almost everyone has a radio.
Although some percentage of working journalists are either not trained or are only partially trained, a good number of journalism institutions have been enhanced to offer such trainings. It is imperative that the media strives for improvement during 2011. On the part of the government, it should take measures to facilitate access to information and cooperate with the media and support it. It should not be in anyway a hindrance to media and the whole process of information gathering dissemination.
As information is power and basic right to the public, the government must also look into ways of reducing tax burdens to media houses in terms of newsprints and technical equipment for both print and electronic media. This will help the media which is hitherto confined to urban areas, to widen its reach to rural locations. It should also distribute fairly its advertisement to all media outlets regardless of their ownership both public and private so as to make the media playing field even.