Research: “Challenges of doing investigative journalism in Tanzania: How do you swim with sharks without being swallowed?”

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This is a research paper that was presented at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 Academic Track, which IJEC organized and covered. For more research and coverage of GIJC17, see here.


 

 

Challenges of doing investigative journalism in Tanzania: How do you swim with sharks without being swallowed?

 

 

By George Mwita[1]

 

 

Abstract

The business of journalism is about finding the facts; journalists, traditionally, are the watchdogs of the society, whose mission is to sniff out wrongs, point fingers at those to blame, and report in a way that triggers accountability and beneficial to public interests. If this is true, then, investigative reporting is simply good reporting.

Around the world including Tanzania, investigative journalism is under threat from a variety of hostile forces that may seem to have different agendas yet use similar tactics and procedures.

Though we had few media entities in Tanzania during 1980’s and 1990’s the role of investigative journalism was evident. Today, despite the exponential growing of the media industry in Tanzania, investigative journalism is declining day after day.

Investigative journalists in Africa and Tanzania for that matter, often operate in environments – ‘Sharks’ which seem by default designed to shut them down. Repressive media laws, lack of resources, emergence of technology and a widespread culture of secrecy are but a few of the challenges facing journalists questioning the conduct of those in power. For example, the enactment of the cybercrime act (2015), Statistics act (2015) and the Media Service Act (2016) which criminalizes defamation and sedition offences have drastically put Tanzanian journalists in a tight corner in conducting any ‘critical and thorough journalism’ as referred to by the Dutch Association for Investigative Journalism. This situation has been made even worse since the 5th president of the Republic of Tanzania ascended to power.

Therefore, this research paper aims to identify and document the challenges – ‘Sharks’ facing investigative journalists in Tanzania and probable mitigation strategies ‘Ways to swim with the sharks’ as we focus in conducting journalism that involves not just relaying information but entails an in-depth research, using impact-driven approach in order to reach accurate conclusions that are unbiased and untainted by the beliefs or views of the investigative reporter.

The research is guided by the watchdog theory of the press by Lichtenberg (1990). The theory asserts that the press should criticize and evaluate the government and other institutions to ensure they don’t become corrupt or overstep their power. The basic idea is that media needs to oversee the performance of government and private officials and uncover all hidden matters which may affect the public negatively.

Key words: Investigative journalism, environment

 

 

If investigative reporting reveals scandals, and shames the individuals involved, as indeed it does, it goes without saying, therefore, that those caught out in wrong doing will never like it and in fighting back, they are always brutal. In Africa, investigative reporters are increasingly censored, kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned and in the worst cases, killed.

 

 

A. Introduction

Today the investigative journalism is declining or rather dying despite the exponential growth of media industry in Tanzania if compared in 1990s because of the liberalization policies. Private ownership of media was allowed and the country started to witness variety of newspapers, TV and radio station. Immediately after the re-introduction of multiparty politics, newspapers like Family Mirror, Rai, Motomoto, Heko, Shaba, and Wakati ni Huu, Tanganyika leo, Radi, Shaba, Baraza, The Express and Fahari championed the reform agenda as well as playing the watchdog role (Kilimwiko 2009).

Investigative reporting can be understood as that type of high-quality reporting which is based on in-depth and sound research, facts, and statistics. Documentary research, far-reaching interviews involving public and private facts, are involved, along with the use of crime solving tools and technologies, like security cameras and surveillance instruments. Investigative reporting is all about bringing truth before public, which public is unaware of. Investigative reporting leads to fair depiction of facts, and is powerful and careful at the same time.

Paul Wilson, a freelance writer for Free Press Release, defines it as news with a difference. “It is critical and in-depth investigations into a happening or policy which will serve to prevent or correct a wrong, prevent crimes, save the planet from destruction, and shape the future of the world in more ways than one. It is reporting the unknown, the hidden, and so, the investigative journalist becomes the keeper or custodian of public conscience. It is a field where a mere niggling thought or suspicion becomes an expose of wrong doings. It questions actions and decisions and brings to the limelight outrageous acts and inhuman actions.” Simply put, he concluded, “An investigative journalist polices society in the larger interests of mankind.”

For any story to qualify as an investigative report, it must be based on the work of the journalist and where resources permit, his or her team. Such a report may start with a tip, and while such a tip may be an exclusive story if published, there must be an added value, an investigation must be carried out, not only to authenticate the source but to validate the claims in the tip for it to qualify as investigative reporting.

 

B. Investigative journalism in Tanzania

For more than two decades post political independence achieved in 1961, Tanzania had a party or state-controlled-press which provided no fertile ground for the growth of the independent press.

Coronel argues that investigative journalists need to look beyond individuals; “The best investigative work exposes not just individuals, but also systemic failures. Investigative reports show how individual wrongs are part of a larger pattern of negligence or abuse and the systems that make these possible. They examine what went wrong and show who suffered from the mistakes. They probe not just what is criminal or illegal, but also what may be legal and overboard but nonetheless harmful.’’ (Coronel, 2010, p.113)

Investigative journalism though has evolved and matured over the periods into three distinct forms; original investigative reporting, interpretative reporting and reporting on investigations.

“Original investigative reporting involves tactics similar to the ones used by the police. It uncovers information not before gathered by others in order to inform the public of events or circumstances that might affect their lives. Interpretative (investigative) reporting develops as the result of careful thought and analysis of an idea as well as dogged pursuit of facts to bring together information in a new, more complete context that provides deeper public understanding. Reporting on investigations develops from the discovery or leak of information from an official investigation already underway or in preparation.’’ (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2007, p.146-7)

Under such circumstances, journalism was shaped in the slavish manner to satisfy the actual demands of the state irrespective of the majority disapproval of what the media presented to the mass. Satisfaction of the minority vested with power was what the role of the press was determined by. The question of investigative journalism, throughout the stated period, had to be dependent on the approval of the party or government.

Therefore, this discussion focuses on why investigative journalism has been regarded as one of the most challenging and yet rewarding branches of media. It’s going to look at challenges including; capacity, legal regime, ethics, economies, witness protection and the rewarding part that includes it contributing to an open and accountable society, contributing to good governance, promoting speech and democracy and personal improvement.

 

C. Environment

When journalists and other media stakeholders got together to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on 3 June, 2017, they recognized and discussed how government, media and society need each other (TMF[2] Report, 2017). Concerns raised at that meeting noted that the failure of government and media to work together has a negative impact on society, which has the right to reliable and relevant information.

A number of incidences has taken place since January 2017 that capture the mood of concern, suspicion and vulnerability that currently exists in the media sector in Tanzania. They include most notably the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda’s attempt to unduly influence Clouds Media’s broadcast choices, the sudden and unexplained replacement of Nape Nnauye as Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports with Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe and threats to the safety and security of journalists, during the course of their work that happened during a press conference held by one faction of the Civic United Front- CUF (TMF Report, 2017).

 

D. ‘Sharks’ in Tanzanian Investigative Journalism

The ‘sharks’ in investigative journalism range from: Capacity, legal framework, ethics, poor economy, and emergence of ICT.

  1. Journalistic Capacity: This involves both professional and academic. Education system in Tanzania does not prepare adequately people joining the profession. Majority of the journalists hold diploma level of education. This limited professional capacity sometimes makes beating deadlines another stiff challenge facing investigative journalists. Sometimes the employer feels that the story is taking too long and due to these pressures, sometimes they are forced to abandon it sometimes while so close to seeing the light of day.
  2. The legal framework/regime: The legal regime includes laws, constitution, statutes and regulation which are very prohibiting. For example, the enactment of the cybercrime act (2015), Statistics act (2015) and the Media Service Act (2016) which criminalizes defamation and sedition offences have drastically put Tanzania journalists in a tight corner leading to self-censorship. The access to information act, 2016 passed in September 2016 is yet to be operationalized, regulations are yet to be developed. This makes it very hard for the Tanzanian journalist to access quality information that will be used to report on stories that trigger accountability.As Priscilla Nyokabi, former program officer for the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists once noted: “There are many reasons for having freedom of information legislation: To make government more accountable, increase public participation, promote the involvement of all in public life, including those currently marginalized, like women; to make private companies more accountable, monitor and expose corruption, lead to better decision making, protect privacy, expose human rights violations, and promote workers’ rights; and to make the country more secure. Access to information is instrumental to parliament’s oversight role.”Freedom to information is enshrined as a fundamental human right by the United Nations, and upheld by the African Charter on Human and People’s Right. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa explicitly states: “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.”
  3. Finances: The scarcity of resources for Tanzania journalists negatively impact their ability to cover stories. Due to this limited ability in finances, the journalists find it very difficult to travel and efficiently when a story breaks. Investigative journalism sometimes requires a lot of funding because it is resource intensive but you find that in Tanzania, few media houses are willing to finance a journalist to carry out the simplest of stories where as in the developed world, journalists can even make up to three air trips in a week or more in a week while following a story and its all on the media house.
  4. Gender inequality: Despite what the Southern African Development Community (SADC) might say on the on gender equality as a necessary tool for development in Africa, this equality is yet to be recognized in the media sector in Tanzania. There are fewer women working in our news rooms. Tanzania has a poor terrain and thus making it very hard for women journalist to travel to areas to cover stories.Long hours required in the news rooms collide with her role as a career woman and as a wife at home. This results in her not becoming as productive as would be expected.A survey on what journalists in Tanzania felt were the most critical challenges in their day to day work was conducted and the following were the findings highlighting legal frame work as the top most followed by the journalistic capacity and lack of finances at position two.

Table1: Table showing critical challenges facing journalists in Tanzania

Aspect
All the time
Sometimes
Not at
all
I don’t
know
Capacity of journalists
80%
15%
5%
0%
Lack of finances
80%
20%
0%
0%
Gender inequality
76%
13%
10%
15%
Legal framework
90%
8%
0%
2%
Journalists interest
63%
27%
105
0%
Source: Field 2017, N= 113

 

E. ‘Swimming with Sharks’

  1. Support investigative training conferences: Investigative reporting conferences play a key role in training and networking journalists, particularly from developing countries, helping to cost-effectively broaden the scope of their reporting. Especially useful are fellowships for journalists in less developed countries to attend the annual Global Investigative Journalism Conference and regional conferences. Establishing of a media lab that trains journalists could be the way to go as adopted by Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF), a media development organization that works to strengthen media for domestic accountability.
  2. Greater financial support of investigative journalism programs: Despite its frontline role in fostering public accountability, battling crime and corruption, and raising standards in the news media, investigative reporting receives relatively little in international development aid—and comprises a significant gap in media development funding. A substantial increase in funding of this vital area could have a major impact in Tanzania.
  3. Creating more synergistic efforts with other media development organizations: There is need to work more closely with the other media stakeholders/organisations in Tanzania such as Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF), Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), Tanzania Editors’ Forum (TEF), Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT), the Community Media Network of Tanzania (COMNETA), Misa-Tan and BBC Media action to support the journalism profession (TMF Survey Report, 2016).
  4. Legal training to journalists: Media institutions and universities should consider including more courses on legal issues for the journalists/students on how to write and publish stories without necessarily rubbing the government on the wrong side.
  5. The increased need for technology-enabled and cross-border journalism has developed alongside revenue decline and consolidation in the news media sector. The associated cost-cutting exercises in news organizations have affected their ability to invest in these long-term investigations, which are often perceived as “high risk and low reward.”

 

F. CONCLUSION

I wish to end this presentation by the following literature from the following scholars – Because of its nature of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable’’ (Spark, 1999), investigative journalism often places news workers in conflict with the power elites, the rich and the corrupt who seek to conceal information. Scholars who have written on ethics of journalism such as Sanders (2010), de Burgh (2008), Kieran (2000) and Frost (2011) agree that in some situations where the flow of information is suppressed by the power elites, journalists are left with no option but to engage in questionable tactics—hide identity, deceit, invade privacy of individuals and even buy information from whistle-blowers so as to expose wrongdoing against the society.

Therefore, restricting the flow of information and the hindering of scrutiny of public offices causes problems to the fabric of professional journalism as put in  Sanders words:  “where there is a basic disagreement on fundamentals between politicians and journalists, notably on such issues as the need for scrutiny (the journalists’ role), the legitimacy of persuasion (the politician’s role) and the general need for information flow, ethical journalism cannot even get off the ground.’’ (Sanders, 2010)

 

[1] George Mwita is the Monitoring & Evaluation Manager, Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF)

[2] TMF- Tanzania Media Foundation: is a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital, registered as a public-interest, non-partisan and non-profit making organisation and stands for a strong and independent media sector promoting accountability.

 

References

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