Journalists on Journalism

Tanzania: Poverty and The Press

For the vast majority of Tanzanians, it is the radio that reigns supreme in providing their news. For 35 years, they have been listening to the government-owned Radio Tanzania and getting a steady diet of mostly government propaganda and anti-apartheid sermons.

The coming of economic liberalization has brought the liberalization of the press, which has resulted in dozens of FM stations, 350 registered newspapers, and a dozen TV stations.

Still, only four stations have a national reach: Radio Tanzania, privately owned Radio One and Radio Free Africa, and Radio Uhuru, which are known to be sympathetic to the ruling CCM party.

“What you are talking about here is how the majority of desperately poor Tanzanians in the rural areas get their news. The word of mouth is the main source of information,” says Anthony Hokororo, an official in the government department of information.

Print publications are all the rage in urban areas. They are in bitter competition with FM radio stations. It is a cutthroat fight for advertising.

But though the prices of print publications are coming down, people still find them too high. At 25 U.S. cents, they are simply too expensive in a country where half the inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day. It is not uncommon to see people huddled in many newspaper vendors’ corners to read the front pages of newspapers and magazines.

“You need at least $1.50 to buy six good publications a day. Many people would rather have a decent meal with that money, “ Hokororo says. The situation is worse outside Dar es Salaam, where money is even scarcer.

TV and radio are middle-class playthings. TV is full of ancient American soap operas or dancing Congolese musicians. The urban youth are absorbing it with gusto, from dress to Western hairstyles. In urban areas, TV is for the tiny minority with bits of money.

But the vast majority of Tanzanians are completely out of the picture. In the general elections last October, some rural folk were asked to register to vote for president and members of parliament. “I know who the president is,” said a peasant. “It is Nyerere, of course!” he said, meaning Tanzania’s former president, who died the year before but had retired from the presidency in 1985.