“You’ve to be tough, learn everyday of your life, work hard, forget that you’re a woman and be ready to face all odds, including seduction.”
BBC World Service Zuhura Yunus set this working equation for would-be and working women journalists while talking to 25 inquisitive Form V HGL Feza Girls High School students in Dar es Salaam during a Kilimanjaro Dialogue Institute (KDI) career development and nurturing programme activity.
Zuhura told the HGL combination students, some of whom look forward to take on journalism as a profession, that while the entry points remain varied, the sky is the limit. She then went on to take herself as a case story, involving a decade of service at the BBC.
“I took science subjects. My ambition was to become a doctor. PCB was my combination. I ended up taking my first degree in Botany and Zoology. What a distance! I had to be flexible. That was what was on the table for me. I just could not sit around and lament. You’ve to be flexible. Take the next option and go forward.
“After graduation, environment related fields of employment were the most relevant. There was no job for me. Acting on my brother’s advice, I took up a job at Radio Times FM then working from Lugoda Street here in Dar es Salaam. I later joined Radio Uhuru and switched over to The Citizen.
“I went to Leicester University for a Masters degree programme in mass communication. Ten years ago I landed at the BBC. Here I am. I’ve come to appreciate that journalism was my destined career. Looking back through my life tunnel, I recall my secondary school era when I was the sole person responsible for what we called Habari Assembly. I monitored radio bulletins and compiled them into the news of the day, which I read out to fellow students on daily basis.”
Three pertinent questions were put to her: “The safety of journalists – particularly those following investigative stories –discrimination against the working woman journalist and sexual abuse.”
She responded: “I write as a journalist; not a lady. Challenges abound. No doubt. You just work hard. Sometimes the problem is slackness. You have to take a tough stand in life. The world should understand what you are. You are not supposed to be the victim of that world. When you’re out in the field ‘hakuna kulala’ (literally no chance for sleep). There will be no time for extra mural activity.
“On the investigative beat, one has to be careful. One has to fully understand the forces one is working against. One has got to understand the state of the leadership in power.
“After all if you die, that becomes the end of your life. Investigative journalism is not a one-man affair. It involves the entire media house desk. At times deaths occur due to personal problems between the journalist and the person or powers being investigated. Proper risk assessment has to be done.”
Zuhura’s response rings back to memory the old adage of the journalism profession. Working media professionals are advised to keep aloof of political and economic tycoons to avoid compromising their rights, including life. She is, however, of the opinion that such incidents are not as serious in Tanzania as in other parts of the world.
Otherwise, she says: “I’ve had chance to interview people described as rebels in their countries for BBC. As a journalist, you are interviewing a person. It is none of your duty to judge anyone. Yours is a duty of squeezing a human interest story out of that person or situation. And that’s it. The rest you leave to the audience to decide.”