Tanzania’s older media generation has been challenged to establish a platform for mentoring new entrants and steering the journalism profession in the country back on track.
Discussants at a session organized by the Kilimanjaro Dialogue Institute (KDI) in Dar es Salaam to mark the World Press Freedom Day observed that short of this, history will hold them to blame for letting journalism practice in Tanzania go to the docks.
“We’re not anchored anywhere. We’re not writing our own story,” discussants observed as retired Principal Information Officer and founder principal of the Tanzania School of Journalism, Willie Mbunga, revealed that in fact he had a constitution for establishing an association of veteran journalists on the drawing board.
“I’m not a journalist”, KDI Executive Secretary Hassan Mzighani, said “but the mainstream has been overshadowed by the social media while most of what it covers is more of PR than hard informed news. With more than 1.5 billion followers, the social media impact on shaping the opinion of the electorate cannot be ignored.”
Mzighani, who chaired the discussion, said that while this year’s UNESCO theme stood as the role of the media in elections and democracy, KDI wanted to focus more on journalism and elections in this age of disinformation. Focus was also to be put on current challenges faced by the media, along with the profession’s potential in supporting peace and reconciliation processes.
Chief discussant Felix Kaiza first led the participants to observe a one-minute silence in honour of the fallen media icon Dr. Reginald Mengi of the IPP Media empire, Rugemalira Mutahaba (famed Ruge) of the new generation Clouds Radio & TV and Alfred Taban, a South Sudanese champion of media freedom and founder of the Juba Monitor – the person who was the first to report the Darfur crisis and turned down a presidential appointment unless all jailed journalists were set free.
He went on to say that as the world marked the 26th anniversary of the Press Freedom Day, the state of the profession in more than twenty out of 48 sub-Saharan countries was classified as bad or very bad. At the same time, the ”fake news” concept was sweeping across the continent as politicians used it as a weapon for attacking a free and independent press.
Kaiza lamented what he called Africa’s unfortunate story. The continent is the place where paper was first invented yet suffers from a high degree of illiteracy. Africa is the Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence birthplace where censors, fines, suspensions and closures abound.
He cited very recent reports from northern Uganda area of Lira, where several radio stations refused to host opposition leaders due to threats from security officials while the Supreme Court upheld a ruling to scrap presidential age limits awarding the incumbent leader another term after 33 years at the State controls.
Countries that are devoid of a free press simply cannot pass the democracy litmus test. The free press remains the deciding factor of the quality of the other ingredients. What remains of the freedom of expression, the right to protest and petition the government or an independent judiciary in the absence of a free press?
The problem looks like African leaders do not seem to appreciate the current times until they are swept unawares by the tide. Algiers and Khartoum are very prime living examples. Southern Sudan ruling and opposition leaders did not seem to get the reconciliation message right even after the Catholic Church Pontiff, Pope Francis, went down on his knees to kiss their feet for their country’s peace. Africa still has a generation of leaders tuning their countries’ constitutions to remain in power.