Dar es Salaam — The local media is increasingly falling prey to fake news pranks, with national broadcaster Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation and TBC1 radio station the latest casualties of the dangerous epidemic of fake news sourced from the internet.
On Friday, TBC television and radio aired in their prime bulletin a piece of information suggesting US President Donald Trump had praised President John Magufuli as being a good example of African leaders.
The TBC news item did not quote any official authorities, but was based on a concocted piece of information purpotedly run by "fox-channel.com." Fox-channel.com does not exist and the originators of the fake story made it appear like it was a real story from Fox News channel, one of the largest media organisations in the US.
The fake item suggested the Trump praise of Magufuli was made when the US President was signing a law barring African immigrants from countries that are led by long-serving presidents, who have refused to leave power. Zimbabwe and Uganda were named as being among the targeted countries.
TBC quoted the Fox channel.com, which noted president Trump praising Dr Magufuli as an example of good leaders in Africa, and that his country deserves special treatment. In the fake news item, Trump referred to Dr Magufuli as his namesake.
"Congratulations my namesake John Magufuli, you are the African hero," the six-paragraph 'story' quoted Trump as saying.
The TBC clip went viral on social media yesterday as various groups initiated debate on the accuracy and sourcing of the news. Other than sourcing, viewers questioned its crafting and usage of some words, which they felt clearly contained signs of something very wrong in the whole story.
The main opposition party, Chadema, yesterday issued a statement condemning TBC for airing the fake news item and passing it as truth when it was not.
In the statement, party spokesman Tumaini Makene said the news item went against media ethics and was meant to hoodwink Tanzanians.
"By airing the fake news, TBC was jeopardising Tanzania's relations with the US and is a continuation of the unchecked trend of the national broadcaster feeding lies to the public for selfish motives," said Mr Makene.
The Chadema official asked TBC management to apologise to the public for the blunder and assure the tax payers that there are no deliberate acts to mislead. Mr Makene also challenged the Ministry of Information to take disciplinary action against those invloved in passing the news item.
Efforts to reach TBC management didn't bear fruits as the phone of the managing director, Dr Ayub Rioba, was unreachable.
But Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) secretary Neville Meena said the fake news syndrome is a new challenge that mainstream media suffer from social media platforms.
He said the problem is also caused by the weakness on fact-checking before the publication or airing of any news item. Mr Meena said the TBC story should be a wake-up call for other media houses on the importance of crosschecking facts on whatever story they worked on. "I also have an experience of being trapped by a similar incident publishing fake news sometimes back," he said.