Monday, May 4, 2009

Watching the Watchdogs....

My good friend, a Tanzanian of American descent, Ndugu Jeremia, sent us this fantastic piece about the role of press in our society. His article, which evoked my reflection of the state of our press, reminded of what the great Walter Lippman said nearly 100 years ago, "There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies."

I read in this blog an explanation by one Mwanakijiji for the corruption in our press: that it was corrupted by politicians! Interesting stuff. If we let all molesters go free because once upon a time they were molested, we would be living in a strange society, devoid of citizens' responsibility for anything.

Anyway, enjoy Jeremy's piece:

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Who will Watch the Watchdogs?


By Jeremy O’Kasick


It’s getting hot. Hotter than a hot season afternoon in Bongoland.

Man, every morning I scan seven news sites and innumerable blogs about Tanzania, and the number of sizzling stories and scandals is staggering. BoT. Richmond. Dowans. DECI. The Zombe trial. Troubles in Tarime. That radar rip-off keeps coming back to bite. Mengi sounds off every other day about corruption.

Almost ten years ago, I spent a year at Habari Corporation while researching Tanzania’s media as a Fulbright scholar. As some may recall, those were the days when Jenerali Ulimwengu blazed the trail of independent media. Each week, we read the Rai and debated the country’s pressing issues. As a thank you for his efforts, of course, Ulimwengu received the shocking and bogus news that, indeed, after a lifetime of service for his country, certain Tanzanians determined that he wasn’t Tanzanian anymore.

By the skin of his teeth, he survived that debacle and went on to form a new company, Raia Mwema Publications, which is now just one of many strident independent news and opinion sources. Tanzania’s media has emerged as having more press freedom and voices than all of its East African neighbors.

In the United States, we often call the media “the fourth estate,” and truly investigative publications sometimes go by the name, “the watchdog press.” These days, especially with the proliferation of blogs, online rants, and media that inundates us from every possible angle 24 hours a day, I often explore sources that analyze and criticize the media as much as I read established and emerging news sources themselves.

It raises a question relevant to Tanzania’s press today: Who will watch the watchdogs? What sources, absent of bias, as much as that is actually possible, will truly examine news stories and even news blogs and take them to task if they are at fault? If anyone can point me to some examples, I will be overjoyed to take a look at them. Such media is becoming all the more critical, especially in the run up to the 2010 elections.

What I love about Tanzanian blogs and emerging news sources is how they have furthered critical debates about the country, uncovered corruption scandals, and given a voice to young energetic people who couldn’t have dreamed of freely expressing their ideas twenty or even ten years ago.

What boils my blood is the self-righteousness of many bloggers and their convictions, as some believe they have the answers to all our ills and condemn anyone who disagrees with them in the slightest. Other tabloids seem to have sprouted up for the sole purpose of slandering groups and individuals. Sometimes the facts are drowned out by the increasing and deafening noise of ten thousand opinions. We listen less and less and create clamor more and more.

The true power of the media has never been in answers and opinions. It all starts and comes down to the questions and the facts. Question your government. Question the opposition. Question the media. Question me. Question yourself. We’re all flawed and full of foolishness. Find the facts.

Almost every night, I watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He made a career out of turning news and social analysis into comedy and satire. During the Bush administrations, he became a media icon for standing up against what many believed to be gross injustices but felt impelled to follow the in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In his media analysis, Stewart has never pulled punches whether it’s CNN or FOX, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. His guests range from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia to actor and singer, Jaime Foxx, from the most conservative to the most liberal members of government. He would be the first to admit that his show is about comedy and entertainment with a left-leaning bias.

Everyone wondered when President Obama took office, would Stewart run out of jokes and be out of job? Not at all. Stewart has kept up the scrutiny and the laughter at the expense of everyone, especially the sensationalist media but starting with self-deprecating jibes aimed at himself. He watches the watchdogs and makes us laugh at them using facts and their own words against them.

Such voices have always been alive in Tanzania. (Who hasn’t cracked up about the political cartoons in Mwananchi or Nipashe?) So I look forward to the mornings when we can read about more corruption being exposed and more in-depth analysis of the press its biases. Maybe we can all have a good laugh about it, too.

9 comments:

GAME THEORY said...

Mark Twain said, "It was a narrow escape. If the sheep had been created first, man would have been a plagiarism." The article is nothing but.

If anyone was in any doubt whatsoever about,the credibility of Tanzanian newspapers then he/she must be brain dead and buried.Our media serves to promote the agenda of the elite class in Tanzanian society such as Mengi et al in other words, our the media only provide one-sided news coverage.

I know some will try to defend them but the truth is most of the Tanzanian press is so pathetic, THIS DAY, KULIKONI, THE GUARDIAN in particular, their journalists and editors and the readers (are these the men who wear those absurd chains around their necks and their overweight partners with no style whatsoever?)who are lucky if their minds operate anywhere near the level of either a slow five year old or an even slower fifteen year old who thinks its a world shaking event to see a picture of Media Mogul bwana Mengi naming the so called MAFISADI as if he were the the court of law.

KISWAHILI on the other hand is probably the only thing Tanzania that is still revered around the world, light years ahead of the rest of the crap that spews out of the Tanzania these days. From our tacky and corrupt politicians to our third rate celebrity obsessed society living on DECI credits.From our worshiped pseudo BONGO FLAVA entertainers to our drunk and violent kids.From our failing dumbed down education system to our fast approaching intrusive fascist state that sees ID CARDS is the most brilliant idea since independence from the Brits!

One does not have to be gynaecological or a perpetuator of schoolboy language taboo to be entertaining: when shock and awe, when effrontery, become the core of our amusement, then humour and sensibility have just ‘left the building. Solution might be found in citizen journalism and new media outlets like this blog

Iddi Mwanyoka said...

GT, I think you nailed it. I might differ with you on articulation and bias comparison, however the main point is valid that Tanzania journalist has detour from the highway of principle of journalism.

Unlike the author of the article, I found Tanzania newspaper very frustrated and full of bias. It’s obvious that most of the news based on personal opinions and less intensive research. The annoying part is when the whole article is based on unknown primary sources, which is almost impossible for a reader to prove the validity of the primary sources which was quoted in every few lines.

The main problem in Tanzania press is the number of credible newspapers in the market. It’s quite hard to separate between the newspaper and junkpaper in Tanzania. I just heard that some elites Tanzanian own some of Newspaper Company and their intention are either defend themselves or their property. Now tell me do you think the editor of such a newspaper will be able to inform the society with unbiased and accurate news with deep analysis? I think the different between the majority of newspaper today and 1980 in Tanzania is the color, pictures and some owns the websites. Other than that most of the news inside those newspapers are lacking of intensive research and poor articulation, with full of filtration in order to cover certain group of people.

On the other side of the coin there are few magazines in Tanzania which worth to be called gazeti. Those few magazines follow most of the principle of journalism, they report to the public the accurate and true news. I also acknowledge msaada of the newspaper when it comes to corruptions; however most of the news are for the sake of making more sales and not inform the public.

As our nation grow and become more informed I believe most of this so called magazeti will face a natural death. Tanzania citizen are thirst of credible news with intensive research, there is an urgency of unbiased media which doesn’t shaped the news based on the power of shareholders. Instead, it covers the news as they brake out.

I think we need to adopt the culture of every citizen is a whistleblower and every journalist is a dogwatch who won’t sleep until the public receive the information which they deserved. The golden rule journalism is “Honest”. The power of magazine is so huge and if someone in it is corrupted then the whole society will face the consequence in one way or another.

GAME THEORY said...

Iddi,
Personally i think journalism in Tanzania is the most over rated, self regarding, pompous job in town.And our journalists are simply mouthpieces now, it is rare that they actually investigate anything.I've had enough contact with them over the few months to know what a useless, self serving bunch they are. The sooner many of them get a real job, one worth their 'talent' such as being a librarian, the better for all.

Most are just about smart enough to navigate a press release. Contrary to Kenyan journalists,None of ours know how banking actually works, bleating on about interest rates when money supply is ignored, failing to educate us in the erosion of our rights under the bogus proposed'ID CARDS' legislation, and the list goes on.

If you think I'm jocking then ask MWANAHALISI's editor in chief bwana SUDI KUBENEA what Lancaster agreement is kama atakupa jibu, and if you get an answer please come and share it with us...and have you read the business pages of our papers?

To the OP, the reason our newspapers are in the parlous state they are is because they've spent much of the past 10 years sitting on their a***es and burying their heads in the sand ("it will never catch on, this internet thing"), retaining hugely unsustainable cost structures, preaching down to newer sources of information about ethics and elbowing them aside in the news hierarchy.

Seekers of truth and protectors of freedom of speach??? B.....s

Faustine said...

I would like to commend previous commentators for their insight. I agree with most of what they have said. I am also very frustrated by our media.
In my opinion the current media woes are due to following factors:
1. Media is owned by individuals who want outlets to serve their self interests.
2. Limited analytical and writing skills among Tanzanian journalists. Most stories are narrative and shallow in facts.
3. Lack of journalistic ethics. Journalists have allowed themselves to be bought by ill-willed people.

For me forums and blogs have become alternative source of information. These platforms offer common citizens uncensured and unbaised news. Again, posts to these platforms are subject to scrutiny and intense debate which are not available in mainstream media.

Mdau
Faustine
drfaustine.blogspot.com

salama said...

The key role of media(obviously) is to ensure FREE FLOW of information. But, does our media even have that freedom of showing their ability? definately not, and that give us the whole picture and status of our Tanzanian media. There's work to be done on our various means of mass communication. Might not be right but, I guess it's fair to sit here and think that our media is a joke. It comes as a package anyways, as it is reasonable to understand that it's part of our disfunctional, established system.

GT, umenifurahisha friend.
It's well known that most people are not receiving the information they deserve, and this is because most of our 'journalists', first of all have to please those in high places and second, they're not doing their homework. Personal opinions and well done research could have a profound impact on the state of our media. I don't want to be on the blaming side only, the question comes, are they given that access to be able to explore and get some valid information, and if so, do they use that opportunity?

The sad part of this is unwitting victims. The aundience. They're being fed with all kinds of junk, unfit news. And, if someone doesnt't take the effort to learn more and try to see if there's a different side of the story, they become the product of what's given to them.

Chamangeye said...

I think I have a different look into the whole issue. I do not necessarily place the whole blame on the media in Tanzania, I place some of the blame on the recipient. Even though I agree with most of the comments given by GT and Mwanyoka, I think it is correct to say that the media in Tanzania is entirely business driven and has a product to sell and all the good intentions of the trade with regard to the truth and freedom of speech are irrelevant; As long as you can sell, say or write whatever.

While getting swamped by street vendors trying to sell you newspapers, just peep at the headlines and you will know how ridiculous these papers are.
Yet, people are buying them!!!.

I place some of the blame on us (the majority), we are consuming this garbage and unfortunately the media has found their niche. If the majority of Tanzanians decided not to buy or consume this garbage, I guarantee you Mengi would have changed course.

We have seen how slowly our people are becoming more and more ignorant to the matters of concern. Just as we have transformed from free social education to consumer education, with the majority unable to afford it, tell me, how would you expect the uneducated and the frustrated would want from the media? They would want GARBAGE! and unfortunately that garbage sells!!!
If I had a newspaper in Tanzania and want to top my sells, as corrupt as I am, I would make sure my headlines are always in the vicinity of who stole what, who got caught by who, who is what, who stole what (damn! I wish that was me), simply UDAKU, MAJUNGU na UPUHUZI MTUPU. Often times, the important issues that we discuss here become the unthinkable and nonsense to the most.

So I place some of the blame on us, the majority of us Tanzanians. Just go to a bar and listen to the garbage people are redistributing in the expense of the media. Listen to the nonsensical arguments when they get 'loud'. It seems like everyone has an opinion on how the country ought to be, but what is lacking is common sense. Its alarming how people are absorbing this nonsense without questioning its legitimacy.

I agree that our journalists lack knowledge and substance, but I wonder what would have happened if they had substance? would they have an audience?

I can not see street vendors and half of my family actually reading about the banking system or
rather why we need to have ID
cards. Most Tanzanians have been left out, they have become so frustrated and unmotivated. The system is broken and they are a part of it. While unconsciously used to the broken system, what the media feeds them is what one would consume in a corrupt and poorly governed society with leaders who claim to have character but lack wisdom. Most people have lost hope with the system entirely, if you give them the truth the truth is going to hurt because there is nothing they can do to change things. They would rather take garbage for a quick fix, no difference with a drug addict or an alcoholic.

In the end, while some of us are aware and yearning for substance in our media, it will also require 'us' to change and be more informative. Even in our constructive blogs we sometimes tend to diverge from the real issue at hand, instead of concentrating on solutions for the problem, we dwell on blame games. Isn't that what our media is good for?

Every media is biased, even in the so called "free World". What we lack is balance and that balance is sometimes, but not always, driven by who the news is intended for.

misokasick said...

I think Jeremy is just trying to provoke us and there is no where in this article he defends the media. I think his intention is to critically challenge us on how we read the news and how we analyze the news we read. I guess thats my take on this article. I think it is our responsbility to hold the media accountable on their reporting. I think the media is an institution to present the fact, instead of giving us their opinions. There has to be a balance on their reporting. There is a lack of ethics in the reporting. We also have differentiate tabloid news and real news. The integrity of our media is in question because of their presentation of the issue. It does not matter who owns the Media institutions, it is the job of a reporter to be factual.
Just a thought.

Iddy Mwanyoka said...

Miso

When you control the media, you definitely control the news. That is what happening in Tanzania, few elites own the media. To set the record clear watch the saga between so called “Papa” and “Nyangumi”. Both of these powerhouses have some shares in Tanzania media industry that has created cheerleaders across the board. Who are just jumping up and down to entertain the bosses. To some extent I asked my self how does normal Tanzanian feel about this? Can we survive in the community where the media owner controls what people should read or listen?

These mediocre newspapers not only trash the whole meaning of newspaper, but its disrespect to the whole Tanzania community. I lather browse around the blogs and cheap website to get the local news than open so called newspaper websites, however I am still concern about majority of Tanzania who can’t afford the internet. I share their frustrations; the media owner feed them junk. It is true that “You Are What You Read". So let keep feed this society junk, and see what will happen on the next generation.

I hope things will change one day, and we will be on the other side of alley where critics voice can heard even though it hurts the feeling of certain people. Until then, but for now let us continue get our bell full of junk from the Nyangumi and Papa media.

salama said...

Iddy,

Things will change one day, yes but, unless there's a firm based opponent against the current media. A strong competition might change things, If not, the same situation is gonna be around for quite a while. I don't think it's a bad idea for our media to weigh in, and have a well reserched opinions only after presenting the facts.
It's pretty frustrating to those who don't have other means of obtaining some sensible news and all they can depend on, is those newspapers. As we all know that, most people around the world these days get their news/information from the internet. It'll be a good thing for the majority in our country to have access to the internet but, is that going to kill the old tradition? (newspaper business) as we see it happening in some countries. We need to remember, that'll be loss of jobs. With this being said, si kama natetea that junk, I'll add that we need more meat and not just bones in our news(paprers) But then, it comes back to ourselves. As Miso said, it's up to us on how we read and analyze the news.

We can discuss/criticize our media as much and as long as we want but, if recipients don't care or mind on what they're being fed, itakuwa kama kumpigia mbuzi guitar. Not good if the higher percentage of our society fall into that category. People can choose what they want to read but, in order for us to build a sophisticated society, we'll have to put ourselves in the path leading that way.