Dar es Salaam. In order to mitigate the effects of the growing social media effectiveness, many media outlets in the country have integrated their news content into online versions.
This has helped some of them to serve different and specialised audiences. But, this has not solved the problem entirely.
Much as media outlets would like to integrate their news gathering, processing and dissemination with the new media, they find the going tough because of a number of factors including lack of competent people to effectively utilise the advantages of the new media.
Media houses are so much entrenched in the traditional way of dealing with news and there are only a handful of people in newsrooms who are competent in new technology.
“It is true that operations of the new media are different from what we are used to do. Therefore, we need technology savvy people to effectively run digital and online versions of our newspapers,” remarks one editor whose newsroom is struggling to cope with the changes.
The technology to support new media operations also needs heavy investment, something which is out of reach of many media organisations which are going through a rough time financially.
Nonetheless, respondents in the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) study when producing the 2016 State of Media Report, noted that the new media has come with many effects. But generally they regarded it as good omen as it has positively contributed to the freedom of expression, though there were some challenges.
“The first view shared by respondents was that the new media use, especially the use of social networking, platforms, created many opportunities to journalists, media organisations and citizen alike,” reads part of MCT Report.
The respondents note further that the use of the new media modernised methods, which have been traditionally applied in media operations.
“Besides enabling journalists to access exclusive and expert sources all over the world, news gathering aided by technology also allowed the journalists to get all information they needed for good stories while sitting in their offices,” says Juma Kindamba, a driver living in Dar es Salaam.
According to MCT, the new media has expanded media organisation reach to audiences. The use of new technology has also helped media houses to maintain these audiences.
As noted earlier, many journalists in the country are too ‘old fashioned’ to embrace the new technology effectively.
“The first concern was that the new media are analytically challenging journalists to go beyond the usual type of reporting by coming up with more detailed, fact based, well sourced news content if they are to beat the content produced by social media platforms,” notes MCT in its report.
The problem with this is that while other people publishing in social media platforms do not consider laws, regulations and ethics, on the other hand, journalists and media organisations have to adhere to these legal requirements.
When accident occurs, a man in the street with a smart phone would not need a confirmation from a medical doctor to report that a person has been killed in an accident. He just takes pictures and reports.
By the time a journalist gets a clearance from the doctor, the whole world knows what has happened.
The journalists, communication analysts and other media stakeholders who were interviewed by MCT expressed their concerns that new media has had serious impact on journalism in the country. They noted that aspects such as attribution of information to sources, style of reporting and ethical consideration were not among the issues which people who use new media think about when publishing.
This, to some extent, has affected the way the journalists operate though MCT survey was not able to gauge to which extent reportage by mainstream media journalists has been swayed.
Rapidity with which the new media requires for processing of information also does not fall in line with bureaucratic ways through which the traditional media operates in newsrooms. The bureaucracy was necessary to ensure checks and balances of every detail that is published.
Left behind or not?
A retired senior editor, who worked a number of media organisations in the country, wondered if the journalists today and media houses have exploited the opportunities brought by the new media or they were just mere spectators.
The MCT reports notes that the new media has brought a number of opportunities, but the journalists and media houses in the country have not fully taken advantage of it. There are several factors behind this situation.
According to MCT, a lot of journalists lack appropriate skills needed to make them operate effectively in the new setting. The media houses also lack enough capital to invest in new technology needed to support effective application of new media.
“But the biggest problem is failure by our media organisations to adapt the changes. Many media houses have been dragging their feet when it comes to digitalisation. We have noted only a few media houses that have seriously embraced the digital transformation,” notes a senior editor, who did not want to be named.
“The tide of change has brought pressure on the need for being multi skilled, ability to deliver rapidly as well as ability to practice ‘day two’ journalism – type of journalism in which a reporter focuses on analysis,” says the MCT Report.
On individual journalists, MCT found out that many of them lacked awareness on how they can exploit opportunities brought by the new media. Some of them were not keen to use it to further their careers, but were caught up in the trap of using the new media for entertainment.
Not to be outdone, the government also sprung to actions after noting the new media boom. It enacted a number of laws as a way of ensuring its control over the new technology.
Like many governments, Tanzania cited a need to deter and control crimes such as cyber fraud, child pornography, hate speech and terrorism as a basis of coming up with these laws. But there is general feeling in the public that this was only an excuse but the motive behind such laws was to suppress the freedom of expression.
For instance, critics argue that Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 was designed as a government tool to control accessibility and use of information communication b technology (ICT).
Coming shortly before general election, people were made to believe that the new law was specifically drafted to ensure that critics of government – media and the opposition – were not given freedom to operate during the campaigns.