The quality of journalistic reporting in Tanzania reveals a twofold pattern. On the one hand, there is a significant increase in quality in 2022 relative to the quality performance reported in 2019. In fact, the performance in many quality criteria for all media types has improved in terms of multiple sourcing, reporting from more than one perspective, explaining root causes. Nevertheless, these improved performance levels still need further enhancement for tangible benefits to materialise.
On the other hand, some areas remain entirely low-key and need drastic changes. In this regard, there are still fewer pieces than in 2019 offering opinion and viewpoints (11%), and hardly any media pieces showing opposing viewpoints in the same unit (below 2%). Moreover, few media units (below 4%) express arguments critical of the government. This neglected area should be a source of grave concern that requires attention from all and sundry in the media fraternity.
The positive development occurred mainly on TV newscasts and programmes. Multiple sourcing, reporting with more perspectives, root causes manifested in 2022 mainly in both TV newscasts and programmes. A notable increase in performance is also evident in radio news, albeit on a lesser scale than on TV. In radio programmes, the performance level has stabilised with no notable upward movement. In contrast, newspapers exhibited a minor positive development. Apparently, some TV and radio stations improved their quality of journalistic reporting at a time when the print sector stagnated.
Nevertheless, media houses’ dwindling economic sustainability undermines their efforts to improve reporting as staff numbers have, sometimes, fallen to the bare-bones. Also, failure to enforce reporting standards on the part of reporters and editors proved to be another stumbling block as some basic journalistic requirements went unheeded. Such professional neglect cannot be solely blamed on the economic difficulties the newsrooms currently face.
The predominantly low-performance level pertaining to the number of viewpoints, balanced reporting and critical views on the government remains a serious concern since both qualities are essential for audiences to build their own opinion. Yet, the media in the country hardly contribute to the development of this capacity among citizens. Thus far, the media have yet to recuperate from times of tight political pressure under the former government to the much more relaxed operational environment under the present government. This stagnation might also be attributable to the reporters’ and editors’ lack of capacities, capture of the media houses by stakeholders from the government, politicians, and businesses with a vested interest, and endemic fear of experts and other sources to openly air critical views against the government.
Despite all these shortcomings, the country has witnessed a dynamic development in the quality of reportage in both print and electronic media. Paradoxically, some media houses that had trumped others in 2019 ended up in the lower echelons in 2022 regarding media quality ranking. Some local radio stations, for example, did not perform as they had done previously, partly because of economic challenges, which resulted in the “brain drain” of good reporters to other media houses and greener pastures. This challenge particularly continues hitting smaller radio stations hard. Additionally, support from donors that had been the mainstay of some of the private media might have ended, which in turn has compounded the economic challenges the local media continue facing.
On the other hand, some media houses, including government-owned ones, have performed better in 2022 than in 2019, especially in qualities that are non-sensitive for the government and hence less antagonising. Providing more perspectives, historical background and root causes constitutes a manifestation of improvement in the local media.
Compared to 2019, financial sustainability has now become the primary concern of media houses in the country, which inevitably affects the quality of those media. Although some stakeholders perceive the present political environment positively, others are apprehensive about the indeterminate future development and what it holds for reporters and sources in terms of expressing their independent viewpoints.
Nevertheless, internal challenges in media houses continue to play a significant role as in the bygone years. The lack of commitment to in-house training in newsrooms still undermines the quality of reporting, in addition to contributing to non-adherence to editorial guidelines and the sheer absence of a learning culture in some media houses. These internal challenges can be overcome faster than business models can engender; their resolution could instantaneously boost media houses’ reportage quality levels.