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AD24: Can Tanzania’s news media maintain popular support for watchdog role?

Rose Aiko 11 Apr 2015 Tanzania
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Key findings
  • Tanzanians express near-unanimous satisfaction with the degree of freedom of expression in the country: 96% of respondents in 2014 say they feel somewhat or completely free to say what they think.
  • Slightly more than half (53%) of respondents say the media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control, a decrease of 20 percentage points since 2012. During the same period, the proportion favouring government control rose from 26% to 44%.
  • The more frequently a person is exposed to news and the higher his/her level of education, the more likely s/he is to support investigative and independent media reporting, to believe in the reliability of news, and to laud the effectiveness of the news media in its watchdog role.

In successive Afrobarometer survey rounds, more than seven of 10 Tanzanians have said they feel free to say what they think, placing Tanzania near the top among African countries in perceived freedom of speech. The Tanzanian news media environment, however, is only partly free, according to Freedom House assessments, and recent years have witnessed extensive government intervention in news media activity. On several occasions, the government has invoked the 1976 Newspaper Act to ban or suspend prominently critical media, defending its actions as attempts to protect citizens from unscrupulous media practices. Several extra-legal attacks and incidents of intimidation of the press have also been reported. (The state suspensions/bans and intimidation/attacks are well documented in Freedom House annual country reviews, available at freedom-press/2014/tanzania) These events have fuelled concerns among the civil society, both domestically and internationally, about growing state intolerance to criticism and dissent.

In-depth analyses of Tanzanians’ popular perceptions regarding media independence and performance are lacking, however. Data from recent rounds of the Afrobarometer opinion surveys offer an opportunity to understand public views in this regard. Using the Afrobarometer survey data, this dispatch examines Tanzanians’ support for critical investigative media and independence in news reporting and their evaluations of the news media’s reliability and effectiveness in exposing corruption.

Results show that a majority support investigative critical and independent news media, though this support weakened between 2012 and 2014 while support for government control of the media increased. A stable majority express faith in the reliability of news media reports, and most citizens say the media is effective in investigating and reporting on government mistakes and corruption, although this approval has weakened as well since 2012.

Rose Aiko

Rose Aiko is a researcher for REPOA in Tanzania.