Bongoland’s Press

Sakina Datoo, the Editorial Director of The Guardian Newspapers Ltd, and Ayoub Rioba, of The Citizen, were interviewed on the talk show Channel Ten on Monday last night on the question of whether the behavior of the press in Tanzania can cause disharmony, or even violence. The subject matter was inspired by the government’s statement earlier in the day that rebuked Reginald Mengi, the Executive Chairman of IPP Media and Rostam Aziz, owner of New Habari Media Group, for using their media outlets to attack each other, saying that such behaviour is potentially divisive and could sow ‘the seeds of discord [and] disharmony [that] may lead to breach of the peace.’ 

Now, I don’t want to contribute even more words to the soap operatic catfight between Mr. Mengi and Mr. Aziz but just to provide some context; a fortnight ago Mr. Mengi called a press conference where he listed, Joe McCarthy-style, five prominent businessmen, among them Mr. Aziz, he considers to be the most corrupt figures in Tanzanian society. Mr. Aziz responded in kind, accusing him of being a ‘graft whale’ and releasing his own list of charges against Mr. Mengi. And on it went, prompting yesterday’s intervention by the government which in turn lead to that discussion on Channel Ten.
So, are reporters being used to propagandize the agendas of their bosses’?
Ms. Datoo was quick to rebut such charges, saying that none of her reporters are parrots. She went on to make a passionate defense of journalists arguing that they are a serious minded bunch who take their responsibilities of reporting the truth seriously. On this, either Ms. Datoo was being disingenuous or demonstrating a remarkable lack of awareness. Take a look, for example, how this story got reported. From the Daily News:
The Civic United Front National Chairman, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, has criticised the IPP Executive Chairman, Mr Reginald Mengi, for his recent list of corrupt businessmen and accused him of eroding efforts on war against graft. Prof Lipumba said in a statement to the press yesterday that the style that Mr Mengi used to name five fellow businessmen as sharks of corruption can not be supported by any patriotic citizen. 

“Mr Mengi’s statement is dangerous as it intends to implant seeds of discrimination and hatred between Tanzanians of Asian origin and other members of the society. It is not true that those five are the perpetrators of corruption in the country,” he said.

Compare the above quote with Nasser Kigwangallah’s version of events that appeared in The Guardian:

‘[Prof. Lipumba] commended IPP Chairman Reginald Mengi for taking a bold stand by naming those he referred to as sharks of corruption…[He] said Mengi should name more corrupt officials in the government involved in graft (29th April, 2009).

Now, do you believe, as Ms. Datoo apparently wants us to, that the above graf made it into the article because that is what Prof. Lipumba said or is it because the journalist was spinning the narrative his bosses asked him to parrot, that of Mr. Mengi as a ‘bold’ anti-corruption crusader? I shall leave that up to your judgement. 
As I said before, I am not interested in the who-is-more-corrupt-debate between Mr. Mengi and Mr. Aziz. I actually think we owe a debt of gratitude to both Mr. Mengi and Mr. Aziz. Their little spat revealed, for all to see, how shoddy, unprofessional and unethical a significant part of our establishment media really is; how media owners shamelessly employ their newspapers and television stations (ITV, another one of Mr. Mengi’s media outlets devoted a special programme to his press conference) to push their own personal agendas. But what is even more troubling is the sight of journalists, like Ms. Datoo, acting as apologists for such abuses of power.

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