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‘The Citizen’ hyped proposal to tame Tanzanian traffic police corruption

Something terribly wrong is happening on the roads in the United Republic of Tanzania: traffic police officers are hobnobbing with drivers of public vehicles and extracting bribes from them.

So serious is the matter that it attracted the attention of the second highest office in the land last week, according to The Citizen newspaper.

In a story it published on Sunday, May 12, 2024 titled, ‘Traffic police in Tanzania to wear body cameras to curb corruption’, the paper reported that Vice President Philip Mpango had directed the Police Force to institute a raft of “strong measures to combat the problem of traffic bribes” [sic].

“These measures include the introduction of roadside cameras and body cam jackets for traffic police officers,” wrote reporter Ramadhani Ismail who covered the event in Dodoma where Dr Mpango officially opened a police station in the Mtumba Police District on Saturday, May 11, 2024.

Dr Mpango, it was reported, emphasised the need to improve the system of issuing driving licenses and vehicle inspections. He added that the use of technology such as roadside cameras and body cam jackets will help control traffic bribes [sic], strengthen the enforcement of traffic laws and improve performance.

The Vice President, according to reporter Ismail, “explained that he had already discussed the plan with the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Hamad Masauni, and said that they had already begun the implementation process.”

The report went on: “According to Dr Mpango, the use of these jackets will ensure that all interactions between traffic police officers and drivers on the road are recorded, which will significantly reduce the potential for corruption.”

In a seeming attempt to vouch for Dr Mpango’s proposal and lend the story some context, the reporter used three notable paragraphs:

“Camera-equipped jackets, also known as ‘body cam jackets’ or body-worn cameras (BWC) have been utilized by police forces worldwide as part of their standard equipment.

“These jackets play a vital role in ensuring the safety of inspectors by promoting respectful interactions, reducing conflicts, and facilitating the investigation and resolution of complaints.

“The captured footage assists inspectors in inquiries and investigations into workplace incidents, enabling them to work efficiently.”

This was a story on a plan that, if implemented, has got far-reaching implications for the traffic police officers and the general driving public. However, the reporter left out crucial details that would have enabled readers to understand more deeply what is at stake.

For example, the reporter should have clarified whether this was a mere personal proposal by the Vice-President, or it was a policy pronouncement. Look, the story, at one point said it was an “instruction” to the Police Force, then, at the other stated that the plan was already being implemented.

There was a bigger problem. The Vice-President claimed he had “already discussed” the anti-bribery plan with the Home Affairs Minister, yet the story had no confirmation from the latter or any of his offices. Wait, if the plan was, indeed being implemented, where was that? On what roads in which regions were roadside cameras being used? And pray, where were traffic police officers wearing body cameras?

In short, the reporter was simply carried away by the Vice-President’s claims. He never did the basic journalistic legwork to make calls to different parts of the country to confirm what the powerful and influential news source had said. Had his queries returned a negative response, the reporter would have added a respectful disclaimer, such as this: “However, our inquiries in various regions and among some traffic police officers indicated that the Vice-President’s proposal had yet to be implemented.”

The story also missed some basic facts about the equipment and measures Dr Mpango had enumerated. For example, readers would have wanted to know what roadside cameras and body jackets are. An illustration of a picture of each of the items got from the Internet or on local use would have done the trick. Instead, the story was a tired placement of the grey. As if that omission wasn’t enough, reporter Ismail made a feeble attempt at explaining things by using information that glaringly mismatched the context of the story.

Attempt One: “Camera-equipped jackets, also known as ‘body cam jackets’ or body-worn cameras (BWC) have been utilized by police forces worldwide as part of their standard equipment.” What? Where do readers find this place called ‘worldwide’?

Attempt Two: “These jackets play a vital role in ensuring the safety of inspectors by promoting respectful interactions, reducing conflicts, and facilitating the investigation and resolution of complaints.” These sounded like words plucked straight from an instruction manual. The writer brought in strangers called ‘inspectors’ doing roles that are not remotely related to those of traffic police officers.

Attempt Three: “The captured footage assists inspectors in inquiries and investigations into workplace incidents, enabling them to work efficiently.” The stubborn ‘inspectors’ were still there. Then there were ‘workplace incidents’?

Lesson learnt? That all news makers, regardless of their position in the society, are candidates for fact-checking. Reporters must verify whatever the high and the mighty say in public agoras. Or they risk turning media spaces into noticeboards for pasting officially laced untruths and personal wish lists.

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