Journalists in Tanzania anticipate a lot of change in the coming five to 10 years, but they see economic, legal and policy challenges as significant constraints on the freedom of the media.

The Journalists’ Voices survey conducted in September-November 2023 released recently, says most journalists (84%) agree that journalism will involve more work with technology professionals, that they will need to acquire new skills and that online and digital platforms will dominate the media industry. 

“However, most (60%) also agree that the media industry will be thriving in 5-10 years from now,” says part of the survey report which was conducted in collaboration with five organizations including Twaweza East Africa.

Others are Union of Tanzanian Press Club (UTPC), Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania Chapter (MISA-Tan) and Jamii Forums. 

The future of journalists in Tanzania is being shaped by current legal, economic and policy issues which have been raised in Journalists’ Voices survey that has gathered the experiences and opinions of journalists on a range of topics relating to their profession. 

The survey states that it is clear that journalism - and the media sector as a whole - operates under tight financial constraints. 

Journalists overwhelmingly say that it is hard to make a living from journalism, and point to the many ways in which difficult business models limit the freedom of media houses to cover certain institutions or topics. 

“And while most journalists are satisfied with their choice of career, they would not be very happy for their son or daughter to follow in their footsteps. 

“To put this differently, journalists see journalism as a reasonable career, but not an ideal one; a path for someone who is realistic about the opportunities open to them rather than for someone with ambitions and dreams,” says the survey.

The survey further reveals that journalists are very honest about the fact that corruption and unethical practices are widespread within the media. In part, this relates to the first point: if the only way a journalist can afford to cover an event is to accept transport, expenses and even money from the organizers, it is almost inevitable that their reporting will be affected. 

“As a more extreme example, someone who is struggling to make a sufficient living to cover their household needs will be more vulnerable to pressure from someone powerful in order to write a positive story or drop a negative one,” explores the survey which gathered opinions from 1,202 practicing journalists, editors and bloggers in Tanzania.  

Editors and media owners are subject to similar pressures, or may even themselves be the powerful people exerting pressure on their newsroom journalists.

Journalists clearly perceive other limits on their freedom beyond economic factors imposed by media owners, the government and powerful people, and highlight several topics that are off-limits to reporting. 

While journalists are clear that, in principle, the media should be free to operate without government controls, when it comes to specific practical examples, they are much less certain.

The survey pointed out  that “a substantial minority even say it is okay for the government to restrict publication of anything that paints the government in a negative way. Is this a case of journalists accepting that this is the reality of the context they are working in or do they truly see such things as acceptable?”


The risk is alarming 

Half of media practitioners asked in survey said they have been threatened, harassed or assaulted at some point, including many in the previous year, and significant numbers have been arrested or detained, suffered sexual harassment or had equipment or materials seized. 

They point clearly to government authorities as the main Source of threats to their work. 

“Worryingly, they report that their employers offer very little to protect them against the risks they face, although it is worth noting those with permanent employment contracts appear to suffer fewer threats and harassment - simply having higher status appears to offer some protection,” says the survey. 


What to be done

In an ideal world, the survey suggests that we would remove these obstacles and the media would be able to better fulfill its vital roles in society: informing citizens and holding the powerful to account. 

Nevertheless, such stark realism should not prevent us from striving to create an environment in which the media and journalists are able to work more freely and contribute more effectively to the country. 

“At the very least, this means ensuring that journalists are better-protected from threats and harassment. It should also involve offering them more secure contracts with better benefits,” concluded the survey.

The law should be on the side of the journalists rather than a tool by which the powerful can hide the truth. Journalists' role in society is essential; we must all do what we can to make their work that much easier.