When the Media becomes a tool for powerful individuals Makwaia wa KUHENGA Daily News; Thursday,March 27, 2008 @19:01 On my weekly TV Show in the intervening period, I have had quite an interesting talk. I had asked the Chair of the Tanzania Editors Forum (Jukwaa la Wahariri), Ms Sakina Dattoo, and a number of colleagues in the media including veteran Journalist Reginald Mhango to become my guests. On the agenda on my Show - Je, Tutafika? - on local Channel Ten was the recent dramatic resolution of the Tanzanian Editors Forum to censure editors that the Forum would find convincing evidence against their professional conduct in their relationship with powerful individuals in public office seen in the eyes of the general public as generally corrupt or part of a cartel of lootocracy. I began by asking the Chairperson of the Editors Guild, Ms Dattoo, on what prompted the eyebrow raising resolution on editors taking each other to task when it dawned upon the Guild that some editors were bent on damage control of individuals disgraced for looting or indulging in ufisadi as goes the popular Swahili catchword these days. Said she: An impression has steadily built up recently that some journalists were deliberately flouting journalistic ethics of standing for truth, facts and objectivity. For example, whereas everyone was there to see the colour of given shirt as black, these journalists would announce, quite to the astonishment of everybody; that the colour of that shirt was white! Eh! Bwana! Elaborating, Editor Nyaronyo Kicheere of Kulikoni newspaper gave a most current case in point. Said he: When the immediate former Prime Minister recently left for his home district of Arusha after his resignation in parliament last fall, he was accompanied by a powerful brass from the Press Corp. What was reported subsequently in the print media was astonishing. He went on: It was reported that the former premier was received by a large motorcade involving dozens of cars and a crowd of more than 10,000 people. The actual truth was that the number of cars in the motorcade was not that big as mentioned in news- reports in some tabloids and the actual crowd not in the multitude mentioned. In fact, before the arrival of the former PM, there was a youth demonstration against ufisadi (lootocracy) in the country, but some of these tabloids never made any mention of these demonstrations by the youth of Arusha the morning preceding the arrival of the former premier. Instead there were near-editorializing comments in these tabloids that while what they had reported about the former Premiers triumphant return was mild - a more graphic and great or kiboko report would follow in subsequent editions, said Editor Nyaronyo to my considerable bewilderment. As I listened to my guest speak on my TV Show, I did not help to turn around the famous attributes about Journalism being the first draft of history and that truth and facts being the raw material of a democracy. How is the Tanzanian media going to succeed in this situation when a journalist is able to say something is white whereas in fact it is black? I was in for an even bigger shock: You see, Mr Nyaronyo said: Some powerful individuals with the money in this country but in the decision and policy making organs have even built quite spectacular houses for some wide-eyed colleagues in the media fraternity. Some have even offered education training to some journalists abroad to come home and serve them better ! Eh! Bwana! On this, I found myself a little restless in my seat at the Show: Wanawasomesha? (Are they paying for their college education?) I asked my panelist to repeat, lest I did not hear properly. Oh! Yes! he roared back. This was the gist of my show last week. It was, at any level, very interesting. But it has since provided food for thought both for me, and those who watched the Show; on the level of our journalism here. But there was another drawback observed by some of my panelists. My fellow veteran colleague, Reggie Mhango, observed for example that it is simply not true that the private media is necessarily that free and independent. Said Reggie: I have worked as an editor both here and abroad. Invariably an owner of given media house would summon his editors to tell them bluntly that so and so in the polity are my friends - so dont touch them! In this context therefore, editors have to work within the constraints of the pressures of the respective owners of media houses! So how does one succeed to stop journalists from white washing powerful individuals in society who are common knowledge in their notoriety to loot and plunder public resources? It is clearly a complex theme. But what is important, and in fact commendable, is the fact that editors in Tanzania have made the first step. That first step is in itself a watershed, that is, to identify a problem and warn against it. It was the consensus view of my Show panel last week that an important step has been made, a battle cry has been sounded: watch out fellow members of this noble profession: this is a profession for the upright and courageous. You either swim along or drown in the currents and drop out in the ignominy of shame with the society contemptuous of you.