Unfortunate events in Iringa led to the unpleasant scenario of a reporter in a hostile environment becoming the story. However you choose to look at it, the fact is that it was extremely gruesome and unprecedented and shall not augur well for the country’s record.
Ideally, when operating in a hostile environment a journalist ought to observe neutrality. Never show that you sympathise with one side or the other. The most important thing is to stay alive. As a result, the get in and get out factor is key for a scribe to be able to tell the story. But unfortunately most journalists in Tanzania are not well trained and consequently not wellequipped for reporting in hostile environments.
There are certain basic ethics to be followed when one embarks on an assignment in a hostile environment and most of us do not even know them. Getting in the thick of things before mapping out an exit strategy always has detrimental effects. One’s safety should not be left to divine intervention but should be planned because a journalist is not superhuman.
And there is a serious problem at hand in the form of journalists failing to be neutral and openly taking sides when reporting in a hostile environment. This is extremely dangerous because not only is it unethical, but it exposes journalists and makes them targets of attacks.
That, however, should never be a justification for the excessive use of force by authorities. In the case of last week’s death of Mr Daudi Mwangosi, there have been witness accounts that prior to his demise, he was manhandled by police officers for reasons yet to come to light. Unnecessary use of force to control crowds has become commonplace, and there have been deaths reported prior to Mr Mwangosi’s passing. Partisan politics should not be a source for Tanzanians to die.
Our lives ought to be of far more value than that. When caught between two dangers (a rock and a hard place), the natural choice for many people would be to seek refuge and safety with officers entrusted with public safety. The use of brutal force on the latter’s part should then be viewed as unnatural. A journalist must always feel at liberty to announce his presence in a hostile environment.
Because in conflicts, they do not take sides, they are the eyes, ears and mouths of the general public that wants to know the truth as it unfolds on the ground. At the current rate, however, it might even be dangerous to identify yourself as a journalist. To suggest that the police were involved in Mr Mwangosi’s death may be prematurely unfair and amount to vilification, but it has been suggested that the police failed to ensure his safety.
That alone does not bode well for the force. The general public is unsure if they are just merely incompetent or are simply hell bent on causing harm and doing more damage than protecting. Sad incidents like the one last week only tarnishes the image of the police force in the country.
And there shall be further spillover effects shall the truth fail to come out, or at least meet public expectations. An unhappy public is keenly following the events as they unfold. As it is, many are unhappy with the state machinery and the party that runs it. Last week’s incident occurred when authorities were trying to break what they believed to be an unlawful gathering by supporters of an opposition party and their leaders to ensure that peace is not breached.
But there have been reports to the contrary. This is not the first time that such a thing happens at an event organised by the opposition. The same, however, never seems to happen at events staged by the ruling party. The public takes note and develops ideas that are not in favour of the ruling party. As a result the ruling party is losing its popularity and slowly falling from the good graces of an otherwise very obsequious public.
I seriously doubt if this is the way the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi wants to be thought of by the public, but does anyone care? We are too poor a country to keep dying for less. We seem to spend more money forming committees that delve into circumstances that led to tragic incidents than averting them. Must we go blind before we starting seeing things clearly? The point is that all the exchanges in the world will never bring back our dead.
But we can at least learn some lessons and make sure that such ugly incidents do not recur. That way, our fallen brother and others would not have perished in vain. The registrar of political parties has shown sobriety and threatened to deregister any political party which will seem to have caused chaos and deaths.
The police should do the same and come up with credible findings and action be taken against perpetrators. It may take a long time to redeeming their standing in public, but it certainly would be a great start.