The overall quality of media reporting in Tanzania in 2019 has gone down. Compared to 2018, the Media Quality Index for all media dropped from 28% to 26.8%. Among media types, the print media’s performance dropped most.
Many aspects illustrate the trend. It is clear that media houses now rely on even fewer sources compared to 2018. Overall multiple sourcing dropped by 5%. Worryingly, sources were apparently unwilling to express their honest opinion, which is shown by the fact that the Yearbook’s indicator “number of viewpoints and opinions” expressed in the media shrunk considerably compared to 2018.
And the inclusion of opposing viewpoints in journalistic pieces, an essential element for public debate, declined. The same applies to the number of viewpoints critical towards the government. This demonstrates a serious impediment to public discourse in 2019. On average, only 2.8% of media stories provided opposing viewpoints.
Furthermore, compared to 2018, media reporting has become more superﬁcial. Many print, radio and TV stories did not critically elaborate the news or programme’s perspective. Mostly, bare and superﬁcial facts were provided without reporting on the topics in-depth. This is clearly demonstrable in reports on various economic, legal or political consequences on the country and ‘ordinary’ people. The Yearbook’s indicator on the “number of perspectives” per article or story dropped by 11%.
However, there are improvements this year. Providing stories that report on root causes of treated events and developments improved in 2019. In addition, there are now many more stories that make abstract numbers better understandable to the audience by contextualising the ﬁgures.
There is also a little improvement in the number of media houses using own initiative to ﬁnd stories than just relying on press conferences, workshops, launches, commemoration days (i.e. “ofﬁcial calendar”). This went down slightly from 60% in 2018 to 58% in 2019.
According to media stakeholders, including editors, three major challenges face the media today. The current political environment is considered restrictive to media freedom in Tanzania. This has led to some media houses being banned or suspended. This has thus led to self-censorship within and outside of the media. In this environment, sources are also afraid to talk to the media.
The other challenge relates to the tough economic environment. Advertising revenue has dropped signiﬁcantly as audiences migrate to digital media. This has led to existential challenges with some media struggling to stay aﬂoat, meet their ﬁnancial obligations and pay salaries. Others have had to downsize in their attempts to survive. Yet others now increasingly overburden their staff because reduced numbers mean multitasking and overworking.
The third challenge relates to professional standards. In this context, the levels of professional standards have gone down as some editors are either unable or unwilling to adhere to professional standards. In some instances, outlets are run by inexperienced editors and unqualiﬁed staff.
The three challenges enumerated above – political, economic and newsroom – have undoubtedly contributed to declining professional standards and thus the state of media reporting in the country.