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Old Media Vs New Media, Part 2.

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One thing that you’ll notice while reading this blog is a diversity of views that co-exist under the rubric of Serengeti Advisers. Here you won’t find a homogeneous worldview. Ours is a sensibility defined by a Negative Capability, that is we are able to entertain a multiplicity of views and opinions, even when they are in contradictions with each other. And on the issue of Old Media versus New Media, there has been a lot of heated discussions out here about the role and limitations of both platforms in our Tanzanian context. You’ve read the arguments for Old Media. What follows is a case for New Media:

  • Blogging is more democratic- Journalists now have the alternative of working without having to endure the bureaucracy, whims and sometime incompetence of editors. Here is one example to demonstrate this point. Last year one of the biggest media stories in Dar es Salaam was the resignation of Sakina Datoo from her role as the Editorial Director of The Guardian Newspapers Ltd. However, the story went largely unreported by the mainstream press. But this news did not escape the attention of bloggers. And it is the freedom afforded by the internet that allowed that story to reach readers.
  • ‘Blogs are not held to the same standards of integrity as traditional print media’- Actually, the opposite may be true. In the blogosphere, readers and other bloggers act as fact-checkers and watchdogs. And their reactions to sloppy journalism can be immediate and eviscerating. While newspapers have to wait for letters to the editors to arrive or print a correction the next day (something that rarely happens in Tanzania, if at all), a blogger has to contend with the swift response of his commenters and if a post is half-baked, his/her readers will let him know. So too will other bloggers. Therefore, what determines quality in this situation is not a number of hits, but rather the authority that comes from being respected by your readers and other bloggers who link to your site. 
  • ‘Very few Tanzanians have internet access so it’s pointless to focus our journalism there’- Research suggests that as of June of last year, 520,000 people in this country were at some level connected to the internet. And this number is growing everyday. If a blogger can manage to attract just 10% of that number to regularly read his/her blog then that would mean a daily circulation figure of 52,000, a number that dwarfes any newspapers’ out there. So the potential is simply immense.
  • ‘Most Tanzanians are too poor to afford computers’- This argument is rather ridicilous. It’s like saying Tanzanians shouldn’t read books because they are expensive. No, people can go to libraries to get the books they can’t afford to buy. Similarly, those who are unable to own computers can visit internet cafés and enjoy the benefits of this wonderful new world of online journalism.
  • ‘Printed material has some longevity’- Really? What about all those trees that had to die so that a newspaper could be published? But anyway, today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s ‘makaratasi ya vitumbua.’ Meanwhile, a blog post once published into the ether is eternally available online for any Google search to discover. Furthermore, something written in Tanzania can be read everywhere, from the urban streets of New York to the rural villages of China, by a simple click of a button. How many Tanzanian newspapers can boast such a claim?

These are just some of the arguments in favor of online journalism and blogging in particular. For more on the subject do read this brilliant essay by the British-American blogger Andrew Sullivan where most of the above points are deputised from. Also this piece by the writer Matthew Klam profiling the pioneers of political blogging in the US is worth a read. This debate is always going to continue here. We would love to hear your thoughts on it too. What do you think?

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March 3, 2010 at 13:27

Old Media vs New Media, Part 1.

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Last week, the German broadcatser Deutsche Welle in collaboration with DED/InWent and the Goethe Institute hosted a panel discussion at the old parliament building, Karimjee Hall, on the challenges facing the media in this election year. One of the panelist was a young blogger by the name of Maggid Mjengwa. At the point where the discussion turned to the performance of new media versus old media, it was clear that there is a division between those who lean heavily towards e-media as their preferred platform, and traditionalists who want to keep the emphasis on newspapers and magazines.

Blogging is all well and good, but traditional print media should be privileged over electronic media in the Tanzanian market for these reasons:

  •  Newspapers and magazines can, due to their independent physical nature as printed material function as shared reading resources. Who hasn’t had a crowd of co-readers hovering over their shoulder when they buy a morning paper to enjoy at the bus stand. You’d have to be a fool to leave your laptop lying around after you’re done reading your blog posts though.
  • Printed material has some longevity: a newspaper, no matter how old, is still a physical entity that can be enjoyed for as long as it is well-preserved. It can travel, end up in different places, and be read, and reread, and sectioned, and passed on. It cannot be deleted at the whim of a server crash or an embarrassed blogger.
  • Print only requires wetware in order to work. Human buys paper, enjoys paper. No need for investment in a computer, an anti-virus program, an internet connection, the services of an IT technician and a copy of Windows XP for when your version of Vista crashes. Officially, not that many of us are living on more than two dollars a day and expecting any of that hard-earned cash to go towards the above-listed items is building castles in the sky.
  • The Internet is a democratic space- anyone can say anything. Blogs are therefore not held to the same standards of integrity as traditional print media. However poor in quality our newspapers are, at least there are more determinants of quality than the number of ‘hits’ that are generated. The fact that we don’t live up to these standards is due to a lack of professionalism on the part of the industry. But that’s another story.
  • The quality of our public education is so low that functional literacy and numeracy is in dire straights. In places where textbooks from the government are scarcer than hen’s teeth, at least there is some access to newspapers. Instant teaching materials!
  • Less than 10% of this country is electrified, and sporadically at that. As for access to the internet? Don’t allow the Blackberry class delude you into thinking this is easily attainable or dependable. If you don’t live in a well-served area (i.e. The City), you are at best subject to the vagaries of TTCL and at worst completely irrelevant. We are all waiting for SeaCom or EASSY to propel us into the 21st century, but in the meantime we can always just buy a newspaper.
This is all to say that discussions around appropriate technologies are more interesting than faddism that is obsessed with what is going on in the West and expects to replicate it here. Print is not on its way out in Tanzania: it has hardly even explored its full potential. The only concession that can be considered is the potential of mobile telephones due to its incredible penetration: put a 3G phone in the hands of every mobile phone user in Tanzania and we might just have an e-media revolution that allows content longer than 300 characters. That would be truly exciting.

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March 2, 2010 at 10:34

Deep Thought

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Do you feel more intelligent after reading this morning’s newspapers?

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February 15, 2010 at 14:08

Posted in Press

Annals of Shoddy Journalism

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Regular readers of Serengeti’s Media Report will remember a Yellow Couch piece in the March issue of last year about how some newspapers have the tendency to rely exclusively on anonymous sources in their news stories. As the piece argued at the time, anonymity, with few exceptions, is overused and has become a way for sources to disseminate information and their versions of the truth without being accountable for what they say. Far worse it can turn journalists into active participants in the spread of misleading and at times biased stories. You can read the rest of the Yellow Couch here.

A perfect illustration of this pathology appeared today on the front page of The Guardian. In a stunning piece of spin masquerading as journalism, the paper published a story that quoted ‘experts’ who think that the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) was right to spend Tshs 2.5bn/ to build new residences for it’s top two executives. Here are cited sources as they appear in the article:

‘leading economists and prominent industrialists’, ‘Dar es Salaam-based economic consultant’, ‘a retired banker who…has known incumbent BoT governor…“extremely well for decades”, ‘several prominent businesspersons dealing in import and export trade’, ‘a prominent business analyst’, ‘a BoT inside source’, ‘ a senior official of the central bank’, ‘a renowned political scientist’.

None of these sources are named nor is it explained to readers how they came to be ‘leading’, ‘prominent’, or ‘renowned’. Not a single sentence in the whole piece quoted an alternate perspective, allowing the opinions of these ‘leading’, ‘prominent’ and ‘renowned’ shadowy figures to enter the public sphere unchallenged. Furthermore, because of their anonymity readers are unable to ascertain the sources’ motives and why they decided to hide their identities. On top of that the story itself is not bylined. Readers have to contend themselves with the vague, ‘By Guardian Team’ (This in itself should be interrogated. Who makes up this Guardian team, especially since, according to news reports, most of the ‘junior reporters’ working for The Guardian Newspapers Ltd. are on suspension?) below the headline, ‘Experts:why furore over BoT chief’s residence?’

This is not journalism. It is propaganda. It is shameful and it should stop.

UPDATE: In its editorial today, The Guardian continues to push the spin advanced by the anonymous sources in the above story. Regurgitating almost verbatim the arguments put forward by its ‘leading’, ‘prominent’,  and ‘renowned’ sources, the paper has essentially become a parrot for their views. This is propaganda journalism at its most shameless. The intriguing question is, why is The Guardian engaging in such biased and shallow reporting in defense of this BoT decision?

UPDATE II: If you are curious on the subject of anonymous sources and how they should be used in journalism take a look at these guidelines from The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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January 19, 2010 at 17:42

October Media Report

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January 18, 2010 at 10:31

What’s the story behind the Kulikoni suspension?

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The Tanzanian government has been the subject of intense criticism from international press associations this week following its decision to suspend the Kiswahili weekly newspaper, Kulikoni. Last week, the Information, Culture and Sports Minister, Mr. George Mkuchika announced at a press conference that the decision to suspend the paper for 90 days was taken after it published a story that he claims put the national security of the country at risk. From The Citizen

Mr Mkuchika said Kulikoni, which is owned by Media Solutions…violated the National Security law by publishing a story on the army…with a headline: “Mdudu wa wizi wa mitihani sasa aingia jeshini,” meaning, exam cheating bug enters the army. 

“The article embarrassed our army, that’s why the army complained and when the registrar asked the editor to substantiate, he gave baseless explainations,” said Mr Mkuchika. 

“The editor was arrogant such that he told the army to form a probe committee, whose findings would be published entirely in his paper,” he added.

“The law prohibits anyone, who is not an army officer, to comment anything on the army,” he said.

The Ethical Journalism Initiative, a Brussels-based campaign launched by the International Federation of Journalists to ‘support and strengthen’ the media across the globe, called the decision ‘draconian’ while the Committee to Protect Journalists demanded that the suspension be lifted immediately. The CPJ pointed out that such disputes are the purview of the Media Council of Tanzania rather than the State: 

“The information minister should not be able to censor a publication at will,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the minister to lift the ban immediately and to allow the Media Council to reach its own decision on the matter.”

In responding to the CPJ’s condemnations:

Presidential spokesman Salva Rweyemamu [said] that the minister had decided the newspaper had breached the security laws of the country. He suspended the newspaper under the 1976 Newspapers Act. The minister can make direct decisions for suspension without consulting the independent media monitoring body, the Media Council, the spokesman added.

The CPJ, however, were unconvinced and suggested that the decision was political and had nothing to do with national security:

According to local journalists, the decision was politicized because of upcoming election nominations [in October]. The paper is critical of the government and frequently investigates corruption issues.

This view was re-inforced by Mr. Reginald Mengi, the chairman of IPP Media and publisher of Kulikoni, who told Tanzania Daima (Swahili needed) that he was ‘shocked’ by the government’s decision. He went on:

Sijawahi kuona serikali inayogombana na vyombo vya habari hasa katika mwaka wa uchaguzi. Ni jambo la kusikitisha sana. Huku ni kuzusha mtafaruku na kuruhusu ufisadi uendelee. It’s very sad! [I have never seen a government pick a fight with the press during an election year. It’s a sad state of affairs. This is designed to cause conflict and allow corruption to continue. It’s very sad!]

If the government was indeed using the incident to send a message to the private sector media that negative coverage in this election year will not be tolerated, it would be odd that they would do so in this manner. It should be remembered that Mr. Mengi and his media outlets have aggressively gone after senior figures in government and the ruling party in the past – from his run-ins with the Home Affairs Minister, Lawrence Masha, to his spat with the Igunga Member of Parliament, Rostam Aziz- without so much as a pat on the wrist. So the question then becomes, why now? What has changed in the political calculus that the most media-conscious administration in the history of this country would decide to go after the big media baron in an election year? There is more to this story than meets the eye.

Things that make you go hmmmm…

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The Minister for Energy and Minerals, Mr. William Ngeleja, got into an altercation with a security guard (Swahili needed) at the Standard Chartered ATM yesterday. According to Mr. Pascal Mnaku, an employee of Ultimate Security Ltd, Mr. Ngeleja was in the booth talking on his mobile phone and he was trying to alert the Minister to the fact that other clients were waiting to use the ATM when: “The Minister suddenly turned around and started shouting at me asking me ‘Do you know who I am? You don’t know who I am!’ and he started swearing at me…*” Mr. Mnaku was summoned along with his superiors to Minister Ngeleja’s office in the afternoon for further discussion. 

Cautionary tales: other memorable instances of public egotism include former Minister for Finance Basil Mramba’s statement that the government would buy a presidential jet even if this meant that we would have to ‘eat grass’ (Swahili needed) to afford it, former Minister for Infrastructure Development Andrew Chenge’s dismissal of his massive, and allegedly suspect, personal fortune as Vijisenti’ (Swahili needed) and former Tabora Regional Commissioner Ukiwaona Ditopile Mzuzuri’s homicidal bout of road rage (Swahili needed)

*Translated from Kiswahili.

UPDATE: So, Mr. Ngeleja responded to the above story. He told Mwananchi (Swahili needed) that he was talking on the phone while waiting for the ATM to dispense his third consecutive cash withdrawal when Pascal Mnaku entered the booth, invading his privacy and demanding that he leave so that other customers could use the machine. Mr. Ngeleja apparently tried to reason with him, but Mr. Mnaku became verbally aggressive all the while showing no sign of knowing who he was talking to:

“I am certain that guard didn’t know who I was during that time, as he was starting to get confrontational one customer tried to warn him that he was speaking to a Cabinet Minister but he continued to shout *” 

Yes, Minister. 

*Translated from Kiswahili.

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January 7, 2010 at 17:09