Study Paints Gloomy Picture for Tanzania’s Journalists

Mwanza. A major nationwide study whose findings were revealed on Friday has painted a gloomy picture for Tanzania’s journalists, with the members of the fourth estate from the East African nation mentioning several factors, including the lack of safety, freedom and deteriorating well-being making their profession “a difficult one.”

Based on data from a unique survey of 1,202 practising journalists, editors and bloggers, the study, Sauti za Waandishi: A Survey of Tanzanian Media Practitioners, has been described as perhaps the biggest study ever conducted in Africa on journalists’ experiences and opinions.The study drew survey participants from the membership databases of various media societies, including the Union of Tanzanian Press Clubs (UTPC), the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania Chapter (MISA-Tan) and JamiiForums, a local social networking website.With funding from Twaweza East Africa, a regional NGO working to increase citizen agency and accountable governance, the study concludes that journalism is a “difficult profession” in Tanzania. While journalists see value to society in what they do, “they see very clearly the constraints –economic, security-related, political, legal, sociological–that limit their ability to offer that value in full.”Key findingsFor example, half (50 per cent) of journalists in Tanzania report that they have been threatened, harassed or assaulted at some time. Two out of ten have been arrested or detained by the authorities, and similar numbers have experienced sexual harassment or abuse or have had equipment or materials seized from them.

The study, conducted in 2023, also reveals that most journalists in Tanzania have less permanent, less dependable forms of employment. For example, two out of ten describe their employment status as permanent, compared to six out of ten who say it is temporary and two out of ten who say it is occasional. Most journalists (63 per cent) say it is hard to make a decent living from journalism, with one out of three journalists taking on other paid work besides working in the media, the study found. Just two out of ten journalists said they would want their son or daughter to become a journalist.Fifty per cent of journalists reported having been threatened, harassed or assaulted at some time, with many of them pointing the finger at government officials as the primary source of threats to their work. The study found that most journalists feel that the media in Tanzania has limited freedom to operate independently, without censorship or interference by media owners, the government, powerful individuals and private companies. Journalists see economic challenges as a significant constraint on the freedom of the media, with 52 per cent saying that media outlets sometimes have to adapt their content in return for state advertising, the study noted.

Aidan Eyakuze, Twaweza East Africa Executive Director, urged the public to “recognise and value the important work” journalists do, adding: “[W]e should all do whatever we can to make it easier for [journalists] to ask awkward questions and speak truth to power.”Opportune timeThe study comes at an opportune time as national-level discussions are underway to improve press freedom in Tanzania, journalists’ well-being, and the overall economy of news media organisations, most of whom experience unprecedented economic uncertainties.A ministerial nine-member commission is finalising its consultations with key stakeholders in Tanzania’s media scene and is expected anytime to submit its report to the government on the best way the Samia Suluhu Hassan Administration can support media organisations to survive the financial crisis they go through.Stakeholders are banking on Samia’s commitment to supporting a free and flourishing media sector in Tanzania, demonstrated by her public remarks that she doesn’t want to be accused of muzzling the press and her decision to implement several proposals to improve the sector.These include lifting a ban previously imposed on several media outlets and the amendment of the controversial Media Services Act of 2016 following a series of ministerial-level consultations with key stakeholders. While concerns remain, many stakeholders believe things are better now than they used to be.

The study by Twaweza and its partners demonstrated the change in the sector by revealing that no journalist reported having their licence cancelled or banned from practising in 2022, a year since President Samia became Tanzania’s sixth leader following the death of her predecessor, John Magufuli.Journalistic integritySeveral people, including journalists and people working in Tanzania’s civil society organisations, were present during the launching of the study on Friday and actively participated in the discussion that followed the presentations of the study findings.Most of the discussion concerned journalists’ well-being and its implications for press freedom and independence. For instance, former Controller and Auditor General (CAG) Ludovick Utouh ruled out the possibility of journalists maintaining their integrity in the face of economic hardships.“It is increasingly difficult to prevent corruption in such circumstances,” Mr Utouh, now Executive Director of local public accountability think tank WAJIBU, said during the discussion. “Without sufficient remuneration, journalists are forced to explore alternative income sources. Not all of these alternatives are ethical.”Participants unanimously agreed that interventions must be made to rescue the situation, with many hoping that the government would pay attention to the findings and allow them to inform national policies, laws, and guidelines on media and journalists in Tanzania.

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