Telling the deeper story

Country Director, Tanzania

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Haba na Haba, the Tanzanian radio show that aims to narrow the gap between people and politicians.

Just over a month ago, on Friday 23 March, here in Dar es Salam we launched Haba na Haba ('Little by Little') on the BBC's Swahili Service. It was a small gathering, and at 7pm as the programme went live, we celebrated the birth of a groundbreaking new show. Haba na Haba provides a space where, little by little, ordinary Tanzanians and their leaders will come together and talk about the issues which matter the most.

I've been in Tanzania for more than six months now, having previously headed up the BBC Media Action office in Sierra Leone. And what a change it has been. Tanzania is a beautiful, peaceful and stable country - full of warm faces and a thoughtful, polite and united people. I felt thoroughly welcome and at home from the minute I stepped off the plane. Having come from a country still troubled by inter-tribal violence, it is striking to hear Tanzanians talking about their country before their tribe when you ask them "Who are you?"

But there's another side to this story and one that I've gradually begun to understand more and more as I talk to colleagues, friends and other journalists.

This sense of loyalty has led to a reticence among journalists. A nervousness about asking too many questions - about probing too deeply. All too often it's easier to tell the story which you are being told, rather than searching for the story which lies beneath the surface. And I think that this has done immense damage to public discourse in Tanzania. And to the accountability and transparency mechanisms which operate in the country.

We know that many journalists in Tanzania lack skills and need training, we know that brown paper envelopes change hands in exchange for stories, we know that high editorial standards and ethics are not always followed. And we also know that it's difficult to do good journalism in Tanzania.

Last month I met a journalist from a rural radio station in the East of the country. She told me about how she wants to get stories on air, to tell the stories of how government services are failing local people - of children dying needlessly and of dirty water. But her manager wouldn't let her. He said they couldn't broadcast those kinds of programmes. If they did, there would be consequences.

But things are changing.

Among the journalists we work with, in the blogs of the youth-led 'Jami' forums, in the voices on the radio and on TV, a wind of change is blowing.

Throughout 2010, we carried out intensive training and mentoring support to the Tanzanian Broadcasting Company (TBC) during the election period. TBC was judged by the European Commission independent election observers as the most impartial and equal coverage of any broadcaster in Tanzania - something for which the journalists should take credit and pride.

More recently, have been working with community and local stations to provide long term training and mentoring across the station - from journalists, to producers, editors and managers. It is these stations who provide local voices for Haba na Haba.

Tanzanians are ready to talk to their leaders, to find out what changes are happening, to voice their concerns - to begin a national conversation. And we know that leaders are ready to talk too. The opening edition of Haba Na Haba includes an interview with the Minister of Good Governance. He says that the government is committed to greater transparency and openness. We hope that, little by little, that commitment will grow.

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