By Makwaia wa KUHENGA
21st August 2009
A HARD look at the Tanzanian media landscape today, to my mind, is not a healthy one. It raises a number of questions. Does the Tanzanian media or media people operate according to a set of principles and values? Which comes first: media ownership interests or respective consciences of media people? Where politicians seem to grope into the darkness, can the Tanzanian media be relied upon to show the way? Is the Tanzanian media fulfilling its educative role to the public or it is doing the opposite, deepening their ignorance?
These are questions that media people, including myself, can do better to address rather than brush them away. Two instances come to mind immediately in the intervening period. This is the story of the “battle of the sharks versus the whales” and the controversy surrounding a House of Worship issuing a manifesto or “waraka” as popularised in the run-up to elections next year. A perusal of the print media in the days of the “battle of the sharks and whales” was indicative of one thing: journalists openly took sides on either side of the former antagonists. They gave a spirited defence on either side of the antagonists, who happen to own a substantial chunk of the print and electronic media.
They carried this nation with them as though theirs was a real “national issue”! On the latter, it was surprising how emotion relating to one’s religious affiliation on the part of the media personnel has played a bigger chunk. Or it was simply lack of an analytical mind related to what consequences may befall this nation if every religion in the country was to follow suit to issue pre-election guidelines on how to pick “clean” leaders. It has also been surprising how seemingly serious tabloids and broadsheets have actually proceeded to prop up the church’s documents and even go to the extent of printing headlines like: waraka unauzwa kama njugu: [pastoral manifestoes are selling like hot cakes!]
When ruling party ideologue, Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru called the press the other day to explain out his stance why he had criticised the pastoral political documents as essentially an act of planting seeds of future national disharmony, he has been singled out for vicious attacks on the same tabloids, broadsheets and even the Internet! These attacks have not been in substance on his actual stand, but personal attacks on his alleged ‘ufisadi’. I was not spared either on my stance in this column when I have consistently warned the nation to be aware of divisive trends that can easily split this country into an openly religious divide. Someone the other day forwarded to be a diatribe on the Internet alleging something like this: “Inaelelea Mzee Makwaia kanunuliwa na Kingunge. Njaa haina adabu!” [It would appear the old man Makwaia has been bought by Kingunge: Hunger has no self respect] Hahahahahahaha! The latter echo of laughter is mine.
But the reading I have made out of these attacks is that to the mind of some people in this country, people are not supposed to have a conscience, to think independently or maturely in the national good. Everyone has a price tag! The hard questions to put up here then are: What has happened to this country which before was focused and politically conscious? Why is it very difficult for our people today, including most of us journalists, to appreciate someone like Kingunge who is simply warning that mixing religion and politics is folly for a young and fragile country like this one? Why are we quick to mix issues of whether he is personally clean as a leader with the essence of his actual message?
Back to the role of journalists to read the signals in society for futures troubles ahead that may engulf the whole country and the need for the journalists to point them out. Not long ago, in the course of the Mwinyi Administration or second phase CCM government as it better known in this country, I returned home one night to find my spouse a very worried person. When I inquired what was up, she told me that her brother had dropped by the house to inform her that cursing prayers had been said against me in some mosque in Dar es Salaam. My alleged crime: articles I had been penning in my columns in the print media decrying against the huge wave then in open-air ‘mihadhara’ which attacked Christianity and Christians in the country. As I lay in my bed then, I told my spouse in a bemused tone: “Do not worry: Those who read bad prayers against me are not special creatures who serve this same One God with tea, assuming God takes tea!”
If I am reducing this incident in print at all is to impress upon my fellow media people to take their roles with utmost responsibility and conscience towards this country, its viability, peace and national harmony. Even where we have widened democratic space in terms of freedom of thought and speech that does not mean that this country has no principles or history with which to derive inspiration. We should be sufficiently well-read to see what has happened in other countries, and why other people such as Rwandans had reached the level they reached when they slaughtered each other with wanton abandon.
Who were those people who were being tried in Arusha at the Special UN Court on Rwanda? Among them were clergymen and journalists, isn’t it? What were their alleged crimes? Reading the Rwanda genocide story, is it not true that some churches were turned into slaughter houses? So, to my mind, Tanzanian journalists should be the first to detect actions that may divide the people of this country, stand up, write and speak up in the strongest manner possible that this country should not degenerate into the same way other countries went. Interests of owners of media outlets are not the same as the conscience of journalists individually or collectively. Of course it is true that who-ever pays the piper, plays the tune. But journalists who are competent professionally and who have a conscience must be able to tell the owners NO in the interest of this country!
The agenda setting role of the media must be real and well reflected when one takes a glance at the newspapers first thing on his television set as he watches the newspapers headlines in those special TV programmes every morning. That agenda setting role means simply that it is the media people who must show the way when politicians are groping in darkness; unable to grasp the real issue before hand or lacking the courage to tell it. But they must be sufficiently analytical to realise that “mafisadi” [a lootocracy] while it may not be obscured as a national issue, is not a song to be sung like a bunch of parrots or the sum total of the whole national problem. Mafisadi is the offspring of the social-economic system of the country, capitalism. So “mafisadi” can hardly be the trunk of the tree or its roots. These are mere branches!
Makwaia wa KUHENGA is a Senior Journalist & Author.