In Summary
  • If it were not for new media (represented by social media), the traditional media had to wait for a formal press release from the State House to inform the public what had happened.

Dar es Salaam. When the newly sworn in President John Magufuli decided to walk on foot from State House to the Ministry of Finance unannounced, traditional media (represented by mainstream media) was not aware.

If it were not for new media (represented by social media), the traditional media had to wait for a formal press release from the State House to inform the public what had happened.

Likewise, when President Magufuli made an unannounced visit to the Muhimbili National Hospital, the new media was at hand to break the news to the public. It was only after learning of these developments through social media that the mainstream media started to act.

In the recent past, the new media has done things, which the traditional media can only dream of. As a result, the new media has been gaining popularity at the expense of the traditional media.

So, the traditional media be warned; the new media is becoming a darling of many people at an alarming speed.

This is so because the new media has finally managed to break barriers that made the traditional media the sole provider of news to the public.

State of the Media 2016 report released recently by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) observes that number of people who depend on and use the new media as means of communication of important news, notably breaking news, has been on the increase. This change of affairs has been caused by a number of factors, states MCT in the report, noting that the most important being the ability of the new media to overcome barriers, which had always been a stumbling block to the traditional media.

Mr Khalfan Said, the proprietor of K-VIS Blog, is not surprised by the MCT findings on the trend of the new media versus traditional media.

He notes that with technological changes, media practitioners should also expect big changes in their profession.

“Technology has changed the way people consume news. Therefore, it is ridiculous to expect that as years go by people will stick to the old ways of getting news and information,” he says.

He points out that his blog, which is only two years old, receives visitors who are more than circulation of a newspaper for 10 years.

“Some people might regard this as a bad omen, but I think it should be taken as a wake up call. Traditional media should assess the situation and come up with strategies that will enable them to survive in the globalised world where everyone is virtually a journalist,” he says.

The two examples on President Magufuli’s visits supports what Mr Said says.

In today’s world, publishing has transcended the boundaries and anyone with a mobile phone connected to internet can publish anything at any time.

Asked on what should be done, Mr Said says media owners should invest in training of their journalists as well as news gathering, processing and dissemination.

Elaborating, he notes that if a newspaper wants to survive, it should make sure that it gives its readers what they need timely. “This means that in addition to producing hard copies, newspapers should also focus on online journalism as other events and happenings need to be published as they happen, people should not wait until the next day to read them in a newspaper as the social media today publishes every event which occurs,” he adds.

The MCT report has found out that increased internet penetration among Tanzanians and proliferation mobile phones, are other factors which empowers the new media against traditional media.

According to the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the number of people who own mobile phones in the country in the past five years has increased from 23.66 million in 2011 to 40 million last year. In the same period, internet penetration has also increased from 12 per cent (5.31 million internet subscribers) to 40 per cent (19.86 million internet subscribers) in 2016.

Freedom of expression

But it is freedom, which it gives people that has made the new media the darling of many people. While the traditional media can select who gets the opportunity to air his or her views, the new media does not have such a barrier. As long as one is hooked to the internet, he or she can freely air his views, comments and aspirations without any hindrances.

“New media’s nature, which allows accessibility to everyone without considering his or her social status, as well as its high degree of autonomy, make it possible for ordinary people to air their views without interference, fear or control,” says CT report.

The report notes that this is witnessed by the way Tanzanians interacted through social networking platforms on political events happening from every corner of the country.

“This clearly indicates the freedom and convenience of accessing new media,” says the report.

Besides, Hassan Mndeme, a Mwananyamala Kwa Kopa resident, says the new media has indeed served as a medium through which people can directly put their leaders and government to task.

He says the new media is also a platform, which has been instrumental in bringing people together compared with the traditional media.

He notes that the new media has expanded a sphere for individuals and groups to communicate, identify issues of major concern, freely discuss them and through such discussion influence political actions.

“This rarely happens through traditional media where ordinary people are not covered to this extent,” says Mr Mndeme in support of the MCT report which also points out that it has always been difficult for traditional media to operate as platforms for people to freely air their views which are critical of those in power.

Traditional media fails to operate in such a way due to presence of unfriendly laws and strict regulations.

Implication to journalism

Being members of the society, journalists could note these changes. Likewise, as institutions that serve the public, media organisations also witnessed the changing environments.

In response, 2016 has witnessed increasing number of journalists, also coming together to form social networking platforms. They use these platforms as vehicles through which they can exchange idea as well as further their daily activities and professional backgrounds.

“Today, if I have a problem related to my work, I can easily solve it by asking my colleagues in our WhatsApp groups. Gone are the days when I only depended on my editor for issues which I didn’t know,” says a journalist who declined to have his name published.

An administrator of one WhatsApp group, which has brought together many journalists, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said be it professional issue, looking for contacts for sources or new news ideas, experience from old colleagues on controversial issues and many other issues are exchanged through WhatsApp groups.

The media houses have also noted the changes. In 2016, the country witnessed tremendous transformation of many media houses in terms of how they gather, process and disseminates news.

In the past few years, media houses used social media platforms as place where they can get news tips. But today things have changed.

A number of media organisations have turned to social media as formal platform through which they gather information and disseminate it. SMS breaking news is being operated by almost all major media organisations in the country. Many have also opened you tube channels through which they disseminate information through video. To media organisations, facebook is no longer a social networking, but a platform through which information can easily and quickly be disseminated and feedback collected instantly.

These changes have forced journalists to learn new skills. Mr Said said that in 2009 he attended a workshop in the US in which he was taught that a journalist today needs to have multiple skills , which includes writing, taking pictures, capturing videos and audio.

“This is so because a media house would like to employ someone who has all these skills because they (media houses) have learnt that news gathering, processing and dissemination has taken a turn and they have no option but to operate as the world demands,” he says.

The MCT report has noted the growing trend under which various media outlets have integrated their news content into online versions to serve different and specialised audiences.