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Why media should emulate TBC on reporting issues affecting minorities

Media houses rarely get it right when reporting on issues affecting minorities in society.

That is why it was spirit-buoying to watch an item on the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation TV at 1pm on Saturday, February 18, 2024. The story was about plans to build a resource and training centre for the deaf community in Kikombo, Dodoma province.

One would have expected TBC TV to go the usual way of a reporter narrating the story, aided by cogent cut-aways and voice-overs. No, that is not what the station did. Instead, it allowed the story to be told by the deaf using sign language as the reporter tagged along – in the background – with his supporting commentary. Indeed, TBC TV was alive to the special needs of the deaf and allowed them to tell their own story. It was powerful. It was caring. It was apt.

Speaking in Dar es Salaam during the launch of a fundraiser for the proposed centre, the chairperson of the Tanzania Association of the Deaf Selina Malemba led viewers in sign language to say those with hearing impairment faced many challenges, including difficulty in communication, education, and poor representation. The TBC reporter was at hand to interpret for the viewers Malemba’s sign language.

“These challenges will be addressed at the institution we propose to build. The resource and training centre will, among others, provide the deaf with education in sign language on all aspects of life. You know, there isn’t much one can achieve without education,” Malemba said.

Next was Chavita’s executive director Dickson Mveyange who said the deaf in Tanzania were denied their basic rights and led poor lives: “Most of them ditch schooling because of the challenges in communication. The proposed institution will impart creative skills in the deaf to enable them contribute to national development.”

The camera person captured two important aspects of the proposed centre for the deaf: A website and surface area. Although the reporter did not comment on them, a keen viewer would have known that TBC TV was passing latent – but important – messages through them.

The website, www.deafdevelopment.or.tz, leads one to all the information about Chavita and the categories for raising funds to build the resource centre (changia.chavita.or.tz). It invites locals and foreigners to contribute to the worthy cause, and leads those who may not be having the Internet on how to send their contributions through mobile money services. The platform is designed for simplicity and user-friendly experience for donors globally.

Second, the news item gave the viewers a peek into the design of the proposed institution, complete with specific indicators on the site schedule. With these statistics, a viewer got a general view of the size of the proposed institution, a cogent magnet for fundraising.

These two utility additions to the news item helped in leading viewers to the forum for fundraising and to have a general feel of the size of the proposed institution. It could have been much better if the reporter commented on them and guided viewers on how to navigate the website.

By deftly and delicately covering the story of the deaf through the eyes of the deaf, TBC TV was fulfilling vital tenets in the Part III of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 on Basic Rights and Duties. They include the right to equality of human beings and to life, the freedom of expression and to participate in public affairs, the right to work and remuneration, and the right to own property.

Lessons learnt? Where they exist within all the eight member states of the East African Community, the codes of conduct for the practice of journalism emphasise sensitivity and empathy for minorities. Stories on the largely neglected and disadvantaged few must be handled with utmost professionalism, care for laws, and the softness that humanity demands of reporters. In the story of the deaf in Tanzania, TBC TV stands tall as the learning post for other media houses. This alertness to the reality of those with challenges in the society is the brand of reporting that wins accolades for caring and informed journalism.

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