The Media Needs Better Painters

Given Edward

JF-Expert Member
Jan 11, 2011
Earlier this month I went to visit different areas of the country along with a team from TYVA (Tanzania Youth Vision Association) The goal was to educate youth and get their view on the EAC Integration and participation on the local government. We made visits in Moshi, Arusha, Basutu, Babati, Katesh, Gairo.

At the end of the tour I and the TYVA team madeUpo, I’ve discovered something: The way the media portrays rural people and their life in general is a lot different that how the situation really is.
The media has portrayed rural life in such a way that when you hear “vijijini” (village), what comes in your mind is hunger and famine, drought, illiteracy and bad cultural practices. But it’s different. True, in some areas we visited they were using donkeys to carry water which they were obtaining from the lake. But donkeys weren’t all that they had. They also had Satellite dishes, Internet cafes, school debates, and the road was tarmac. Some of them had cars as luxurious as Verossa, and a number of secondary school children had cellphones.

When I saw these things I was surprised. But that wasn’t all that I felt. I also felt shame. Shame of how I judged their lives before I even met them. I was a victim of what Adichie Ngozi Chimamanda called “A Single Story”. I bought in a single story of the rural lives, the story that was being sold in the media. Somehow this also affected the way I was talking to them. When I met a group of men and women of the village to talk to them about the EAC, I talked to them as if I was trying to explaining rocket science to a 4-year old girl. I chose my terminologies carefully and avoided to use big words such as “rasimu ya katiba (constitution)” and “EAC Integration”. But these terms were only big in my mind rather than the reality. The people there discussed every issue keenly and the old ones in their “vijiwe” talked of the Zitto Kabwe saga as they had their coffee.

So why does the media paint them differently?

Two things: One, maybe because the people are more interested in hearing bad news about the country that the good. So we somehow shape the media to report that way. The society is being shaped to be more of critics that doers. The survival of a critic depends on the mistakes of a doer. Hence, the terrible painting of situations such as that of rural lives.
Two, I think it’s because people, or in this case the media reporters, judge things basing on only one’s point of view of life. I’ll elaborate on what I mean by “One’s point of view of life”.

Picture this: you grew up throughout your life living with your step mother who was brutally harsh to you and always hated you. Because of that, when a person comes and talks to you on the topic of step-parents, you are likely to say “Step mothers are brutal and harsh. Don’t you ever make a mistake of living with a step mother”. This is what I call judging life by one point of view.
Aren’t there step mothers out there who are nice and caring? The same is happening to the journalists. They base their stories on one experience they had or heard maybe even a long while back. Even if it’s current and they really visited the area, they generalize the one house they photographed and use it as a representation of rural life.

What spirit are we nurturing in those young people who are more friendlier to the TV that the grown ups? Or those primary school children that spend time on the newspaper stands reading the headlines? We are teaching them to hate their country and everything related to it. We are teaching them to focus on the negatives of the country rather than all the goodness that dwell in it.

I must say, to large extend the media has achieved that. Most people currently are more mesmerized by the bad news of the country that the good news only so that they can get to criticize it it. It’s funny. It’s the same as going through every house of the street so that you can find that one house with a crack and start talking of how the street is filled with houses full of cracks. Challenges still exist, like the collapse of NAFCO (National Agriculture and Food Corporation) in Gairo which left many unemployed, or like the tough condition of the government grants but those aren’t to generalize the whole experience of rural life. Challenges exist in towns too.

The media is meant to be the mirror to reflect the realities of the society so that it can develop. But if the media is to paint a different picture other than the reality, the same media can discourage all that is being done to develop the country.

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