OPINION: We are muzzling the media at our own peril

Wednesday November 13 2019

 

The level of intimidation against journalists and media outlets has reached an unprecedented levels forcing journalists and media into self-censorship.

Media intimidation in the country has manifested itself through a number of ways. There are newspapers and online television stations which have been temporarily warned and others closed.

But what is of concern is the new trend in which private media has found itself operating in shoe string budgets because advertisers have shunned them.

Government had stated clearly that under its cost cutting initiatives, many organisations, including the media, might not be getting usual kind of business they used to do with the state.

As a result, many media organisations has embarked on downsizing as a way of managing their costs to ensure that they remain afloat in the turbulent waters. But others have closed down altogether. In either case, hundreds of journalists and other workers have been left jobless, adding to worsening unemployment rates in the country.

On the other hand, a recent incident in which Twaweza was barred from holding a press conference to release results of a research on media operations provides some of clues to recent reports launched in Nairobi about state of the media in Tanzania. I say some of the clues because we are yet to hear from the other side with regard to the reports which showed that of late laws have been used to gag the media.

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A keen follower of media operations in the country might have realized by now that there is a kind of double standards in controlling the so called fourth estate in the country. And this results from looking at how the authorities have been applying the laws and regulations in ensuring that media tread in a straight line legally.

While authorities have been steadfast in acting against media outlets when they appear to publish something perceived to be against the laws or regulations, but in a number of incidents no actions had been taken when some media outlets openly and blatantly attacked some individuals.

We have been taught that the law should not be biased for it to be competent. In this case, the law might not be bias but its application seems to be.

As noted earlier, after seeing what is happening to some media on the advertisement front and the temporary bans, some media have resorted to self-censorship.

The pressure which has been put on media, has made even other groups such as politicians, opinion makers and civil society also afraid.

In order not to contradict laws which they might not be aware of, these groups have decided to remain with their views and news ideas.

At times, a journalist may find a big story he will not follow it up for fear of intimidation. Imagine if that story concerns a huge scandal in which billions of shillings of public money have been embezzled!

Many editors are afraid to hire journalists from media organisations which have been banned for fear of ‘buying a case’ which is not of their making.

But if we think that this situation affects not only the media, we should think twice. This is because in reality this situation affects not only the media but the government and the public at large.

We all know that for a society to make informed decisions, they should to know what is happening around them and around the world if possible.

Media is the traditional means of informing the public on what is happening within and outside the societies.

Sometimes we hear government officials complaining that the government has done so many things but media has shunned from publicizing the.

How can journalists and media do this freely if what to report is not governed by the legal and ethical framework but personal whims?

As a result, many people have remained on a dark over what their government has accomplished while on the other hand the government is not aware of what the people are thinking about its performance.

Peter Nyanje is media consultant based in Dar es Salaam.