Paralyzed Watchdog – when media keeps silent
Media in Tanzania complain about a lack of transparency in both public and private sectors in this country. They argue that they have difficulties to access information of public interest in the two sectors. The MOM project shows that media themselves are not transparent, making it almost impossible for the researchers to access information of public interest concerning the media sector.
Basic information were not released
From the 21 companies that we contacted, only three media houses answered. Most media houses did not return our questionnaires at all and even the few others did it only after three weeks of constant and tiring follow-ups. Of those, not all the questions were answered correctly or some of the questions were not answered at all. This was surprising as the questions are not at all about potentially sensitive topics, but fairly basic: they only covered the identity of shareholders and other important people in the company, the registration date with BRELA, TCRA or Tanzania Information Services, the start of operation and the number of employees. The more touchy questions on financial matters were labelled as optional - and indeed none of the media companies that returned the questionnaires answered that set of questions.
“I don’t have permission to answer these questions”
Whenever the researchers made follow-ups on the questionnaires with senior officials in the media houses, they were told that the requested information could not be release without getting permission from either Chief Executive Officers or the media owners directly. Those top levels could not be reached due to what seemed the inherent bureaucracy in the media companies, paralyzing those organizations from the inside. Whereas some of the officials were willing to discuss the information with researchers, they insisted to not be quoted, not even anonymously.
The official spokesperson is often very high up in the hierarchy of the media houses. In the case of IPP, even the owner Dr. Reginald Mengi is mentioned as spokesperson – who theoretically has to approve communication concerning his companies.
Influence on the one side – and insecurities on the other
This experience indicates a certain level of influence by the media owners. While self-censorship is usually hard to grasp, in this case at least an utmost cautiousness to communicate the most basic information is evident. This puts a big question mark on how openly those media houses would communicate information that is more sensitive.
The insecurity on how autonomously to act within the work environment might be related to the job insecurity. Employees and journalists in the private sector often live with the fear that their job can be terminated any time. The terms of contracts and positions are often limited. It seems obvious that media practitioners fear dismissal should it be discovered that they released information without the consent of the owner. Similar in public sector, a general fear of antagonizing relations with the chief executive officer could be sensed.
Media response rate almost at zero
The transparency level is available for each media outlet on their profile MOM website. The result for the 36 analyzed and contacted media outlets was as follows:
|Levels of Transparency|
Active transparency means a company/channel informs proactively and comprehensively about its ownership, data is constantly updated and easily verifiable.
In Tanzania, no company was actively transparent.
Passive transparency means that upon request, ownership data is easily available from the company/from a channel.
Only three companies – the state-owned TBC and TSN – as well as Mwananchi Communication Limited. As they hold a number of media outlets, we got information on 22% of the outlets. However, those information were only attained after tedious follow ups and they were contradictory to other official data.
Data publicly available means ownership data is easily available from other sources, e. g. public registries etc.
In Tanzania, data was publicly available for the majority of the media outlets (64%) at the BRELA. However, the quality of the official company profiles was poor and characterized by blanks. Data was often obviously outdated, with changes in ownership not recorded.
Data unavailable means ownership data is not publicly available; company/channel denies the release of information or does not respond, no public record exists.
For 15% of the outlets, data was unavailable at the BRELA even though it is obligatory to register there as a company and even though we paid for the – not existent – company profile.
Active disguise means that in addition to unavailability of true data, ownership is disguised, e. g. through bogus companies, etc.
A case like this was not proven in Tanzania. However, in some cases, the media companies listed shareholders who were different to those that represented the company in public. This is the case e.g. for Rostam Aziz, who appears as owner of New Habari (2006) – but other shareholders appear on paper. Another touchy case is CHADEMA politician Freeman Mbowe whose wife Dr. Lilian Mtei is majority shareholder of Free Media Ltd. As a medical doctor working in a hospital, she might not have much time and expertise to deal with “her” media house, while her husband might be more interested.