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How TBC TV story on Musoma airport failed to market Mara region

Something big is happening in northern Tanzania.

With fundingfrom China, the government of President Samia Suluhu is expanding and repairing the Musoma airport to spur economic growth in the entire Mara, one of the country’s 31 administrative regions, and beyond.

Work on the project is nearing completion. For that, its supervisor, the Tanzania National Roads Agency (TanRoads) decided to invite a team of journalists to the facility to witness the progress.

On its one O’clock news bulletin (Dira) on November 13, the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation TV showed the press corps – some 10 of them in yellow reflector jackets – on a guided tour of the airport.

The newscaster in the public broadcaster’s Dar es Salaam studios on Old Bagamoyo Road in Mikocheni raised the flag for the story, saying the facility, once revamped, will promote tourism and mineral trade in Mara region.

Viewers were told that TanRoads had taken the “delegation of journalists from the Lake [Victoria] region to a number of their projects, including, this time, the one on the Musoma airport expansion and improvement.” The reporter picked the cue, saying the work done by a Chinese company “will cost the government more than TZS 35B.”

The reporter then gave the microphone to a TanRoads official – whom he did not introduce – to take the viewers through the process. “We have done this work in two phases,” he said. Why? “Because the aircrafts had to use it, even as we worked. As you saw there, we’ve completed Phase I, and we are almost done with phase II,” he said, even as his voice almost got drowned with loud noise from planes and an earthmover truck flattening out mounds of red soil to widen and expand the runway.

Next was the Mara regional TanRoads manager Eng. Vedastus Maribe. He enumerated the expected benefits of the airport once it’s completed in December: “This project is at 52 per cent and the contractor is continuing with the work. As I told you earlier, on completion, this airport will benefit residents of Mara region in many ways.”

Viewers were told that the representative of the journalists had earlier thanked TanRoads for the work. “This visit will, in one way or the other, assist us with writing our stories [on this project]. I believe my colleagues will agree with me that through TanRoads, Mara region is forging ahead.”

On completion, the runway of this airport will extend from the current 1,600 meters to 1,700 meters,” the TBC TV reporter, Charles Mobea, rendered his piece-to- camera then ended his assignment.

The story had some lose ends that required tightening to add value to viewers.

It’s likely that the visiting journalists came from different media houses. They should have done some basic research on the assignment beforehand. Although the TBC TV reporter did not name the other TanRoads projects they had visited, good journalism demanded that they went to Musoma with basic information about the facility and its likely benefits.

Second, it’s a basic requirement in TV reporting that interviewees are introduced, including their name and title. This makes the viewer link them to the event and lend them authority to comment on the issue at hand. Such information is usually scrolled at the bottom of the screen. In this story, two officials were interviewed but only one was introduced and his name and title provided.

Third, work on the project is scheduled to conclude in December, but the reporter did not say when it began. None of the journalists asked that simple question that would have enabled viewers to conclude whether the project is on schedule or delayed. The TanRoads regional boss for Mara said the project was 52 per cent complete. There was no question on the scope of the remaining work to compare with the section done.

Fourth, it was a bit confusing that the reporter – not the TanRoads officials – set the total cost of the project at “more than TZS 35B” without indicating his source of such crucial information. Pray, what happens if he cited wrong figures? It’s not advisable for a journalist to usurp the role of the government on a matter as tricky as a project budget.

Most importantly, the story did not give details on the benefits likely to be harvested from the project on completion. Both the newscaster and the TanRoads official spoke generally of its boon to tourism and trade in minerals. To help viewers with cogent context to the story, the reporter should have mentioned a few researched facts and figures about Mara region.

For example, that Mara Region – with its headquarters in Musoma – covers an expansive area of 21,760 km2 and has large amounts of valuable minerals such as gold and platinum. North Mara Goldmine, with an average capacity to yield 8,000 tonnes of ore per day, is in Tarime district.

Mara Region hosts the Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage Site known for its annual migration of wildebeest and zebra that attract thousands of local and foreign visitors.

Culturally, Butiama in Mara region is the birthplace of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father. The region is also the homeland of 12 tribes: Zanaki, Luo, Kuria, Ngurimi, Ikoma, Ikizu, Kwaya, Jita, Suba, Kerewe, Sizaki and Simbiti. Their diverse traditions and practices form a buffet for cultural tourism. It is noteworthy that among the East African Community member states, Tanzania is the only country with a channel, Safari TV (Channel 292 on DSTV) that is dedicated to showcasing her touristic features and attractions.

Lesson learnt? Journalists must remember that their core business is to tell the whole story, the generosity of the host notwithstanding. Nothing captures this better than the TBC credo: “Ukweli na Uhakika.”

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