2020 polls and fly-by-night reporting

When a coup d’état took place in Mali, one international TV network’s anchor reportedly said ‘let us now cross live to (name of reporter withheld) on the coup in Mali, reporting live from Johannesburg…’

I just as soon googled: ‘Why is reporting sub-Saharan Africa done from Johannesburg or Nairobi…’ I got no direct answer.

Why would a reporter feed us stories of a coup in Bamako from Johannesburg, some 8,608km away, pray?

Would the reporter have first-hand information of the goings-on in Mali – and, if so: from what source(s)?

We’ve seen such cases, including the internecine conflict in Somalia which has been reported by (‘foreign’) correspondents in Nairobi – and not from Mogadishu!

The Ebola outbreak in DR Congo on August 1, 2018 was another case in point – as is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Fly-by-night journalists – whom are by definition NOT particularly reliable or responsible – tend to depend on social media, rather than on well-researched, accurately-informed sources.

That is one side of the coin – given that the other side is about establishing why the so-called ‘foreign correspondents’ covering sub-Saharan Africa tend to find Johannesburg and Nairobi the preferred bases for their operations.

Another equally-intriguing aspect is that of foreign direct investment inflows (FDIs) to Africa.

Just google to trace FDI inflow trails to Africa – and you will find that three capitals dominate in the FDI stakes: Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi, listed here strictly in alphabetical order, and on no other merit!

The continued Google search led to a research conducted by Paul Nuno Vincente in 2013, which – among other things – found that “problems with foreign news coverage have special importance because of the impact news has on foreign affairs” [Cordova, 1989: 5].

If international journalism’s contribution to knowledge is to be properly recognized, one should also acknowledge and effectively address its limitations and other constraints.

Back to more topical issues…

As Tanzania heads for the next multiparty General Election slated for October 28 this year: what are the issues that will shape how the international community will perceive Tanzania?

In my humble opinion (for what it is worth, I say), the pre-election events that include electoral policy and regulatory frameworks, as well as application/enforcement thereof – and compounded by the afore-mentioned limitations of media reporting – will all determine NOT only how the General Election will be reported, but also our ability to positively influence regional and international public opinion out there.

When the government strictly enforces rules on publishing stories about Tanzania by foreign networks, strictly speaking it is only technically enforcing existing regulations.

Remember that, locally, an accident/incident must be witnessed or confirmed by a government official before it can be published! So, you have a situation which impartial observers say is controlling the free flow of information.

Indeed, fly-by-night journalists have never been the ones to tell the world regarding the good things that the government is doing – as they quaff 18-year old ‘Glenfiddich’ and other whisky brands in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg and Nairobi.

They only wait to report on ‘unusual’ deaths, diseases, electoral fraud, electoral violence, etc. The Mali coup is one such example: reported on far from the epicentre of events – but always purporting to be well-informed and well-researched reporting.

How do sub-Saharan African countries – Tanzania included – expect to win in such a skewed environment?

Not much can be done – although the legislations we have enacted in the last few years have directly contributed to a stricter reporting environment.

In any case, it is not for this writer to say whether restrictions by regulations is a good or bad thing.

Suffice it here to say that both sides to the divide need to take a step back and examine critically and impartially whether – in a world in which the Lion gets to write the story of its heroism – the restriction of fly-by-night journalism done by correspondents based elsewhere is justified or not...

As for us in Tanzania, we have to ask if we are doing ourselves any favour(s) by wanting to eat our cake and have it, too: i.e. wanting positive news out there while restricting to who must confirm every incident and accident before being ‘mass-reported!’

These days, the China Global Television Network (CGTN) seems to be the best source of Tanzanian news on international channels: professionally-treated, well-sourced, well-edited – and fair to both sides of the divide.

There are lessons in this for the Big Boys reportedly ‘reporting live’ from the comfort of Sandton City, Johannesburg in Mandela Land.