Dar es Salaam. The Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) recently released several publications and reports in its quest to ensure that media outlets and journalists keep pace with the transformative changes which occur in the mass media sub-sector.
Speaking at the launch of the publications in Dar es Salaam, MCT executive secretary Kajubi Mukajanga urged media practitioners in the country to keep abreast of the frameworks which govern their operations.
“For instance, we have prepared a compendium of analyses of media-related laws in Tanzania which outlines the fundamental requirements, responsibilities and rights of journalists and media organisations as embodied in the country’s laws,” he said.
“By understanding these laws, it will be easy for journalists and media organisations to operate within the statutorily set parameters,” he added.
Speaking on gender issues vis-à-vis the media policy publication, Mr Mukajanga wondered if media content – including advertisements – is balanced and sensitive with regard to gender.
Wondering whether the composition in newsroom staffing is gender-balanced or not, he noted that the booklet on gender will help media managers in particular, and media owners/operators at large, to put their houses in order in the gender balance stakes.
A seasoned journalist, Ms Pili Mtambalike, noted that reportage on gender issues in many media outlets is skewed, generally speaking.
For instance, she said, when women are appointed or elected to leadership positions, reports published by the media tend to create the impression that the women had been especially favoured, as though they did not deserve the positions.
“For instance, a few years back, Retired President Jakaya Kikwete appointed many women to his Cabinet. Although this was a positive thing to do, many newspapers came out with headlines which showed that the women did not merit the appointments,” Ms Mtambalike said.
Another renowned media practitioner, Ms Rose Haji, argued that the problem stems from the lack of clear gender policies in many media outlets in the country. “Even the few (media houses) which have gender policies don’t implement them effectively,” she lamented.
But, there is a bright side to all this which – if appropriately worked on – might help to change the situation for the better.
According to Mr Mukajanga, many honours are won by female journalists in the annual Excellence in Journalism Awards Tanzania (EJAT) event.
“This shows that, although women are few in media houses in Tanzania, they nonetheless work very hard,” Mr Mukajanga says.
EJAT is a joint initiative of the Media Council of Tanzania and its partners who include – but are not limited to – the Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF), the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Tanzania (MISA-Tan), the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (Tamwa), and the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET).
For his part, Sweden’s ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Anders Sjöberg – who graced the compendium launching ceremony – stressed the need for journalists and media houses to observe professionalism as a way of promoting peace and democracy across the land.
The ambassador said civic liberties and democracy have unfortunately been declining globally in the recent past – as evidenced from a number of reports which have been published.
Mr Sjöberg said that CIVICUS – an organisation which tracks civic space in 196 countries across the world – released a report in December last year titled People Power Under Attack 2019 in which it said that the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are backsliding across the world.
CIVICUS is an international non-profit organisation, which describes itself as “a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.” Founded in 1993, the organisation today counts more than 8,500 members in more than 175 countries, with its headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa – and Offices in Geneva and New York.
“The (CIVICUS) report concluded that 40 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries where civic freedoms are being violated,” the ambassador said.
He further noted that the US-based Freedom House released a report which is purported to have established that 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline of global freedom.
In the event, Mr Sjöberg said, journalists in Tanzania have much to do in ensuring that the country does not fall into this category.
“The MCT reports which are launched today (are) an open call to the relevant authorities to respect the rule of law and civic rights enshrined in the constitution. It is my sincere hope that they will stimulate debate about the role of media freedom, taking Tanzania to its next (higher) level of performance, aspiring to become a middle-income country in the next few years,” Swedish Ambassador Anders Sjöberg said.
The diplomatic envoy further noted that it is a matter of concern that bias against women and stereotypes is still present today – reinforcing gender inequality in the media industry.
“The prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based violence in newsrooms is of deep concern, and it needs to be urgently addressed. Men need to come forward and play a role in keeping women safe,” he stressed.
The publications which were launched by MCT included a report based on a study conducted by Dr Joyce Bazira who investigated increased threats and interference in editorial independence in Tanzania; a compendium of analyses of media-related laws in the country; gender in media policy; a report on the study of women in newsrooms in the country (titled Challenging the Glass Ceiling) and a report of a study on the efficacy of the Access to Information Act.
Presenting a report, the MCT Programme Officer, Ms Saumu Mwalimu, revealed that the public offices which were assessed had tools of communication – and most of them (70 percent) have information officers designated to handle information requests.
However, some 57 percent of the offices could not respond to information requests within the 30-day time limit set by the Access to Information Act.
Ms Mwalimu further noted that over 50 percent of requests for information that were made drew responses after the set 30 days. This contravenes Section 11 of the Act which states as follows:
S.11: ‘Where access to information is requested, the information holder to whom the request is made shall, as soon as practicable – but not exceeding 30 days after the request is received: (a) give a written notice to the person who made the request whether the information exists, and if it does, whether access to the information, or a part thereof, shall be given’.
“Moreover, most of the surveyed public offices did not have published procedures for handling requests for information,” the MCT Programme Officer noted.
However, according to Ms Mwalimu, “the study found that customer care in the public officers visited was generally good – although only 60 percent of them provided follow-up contacts.”