Last week, the German broadcatser Deutsche Welle in collaboration with DED/InWent and the Goethe Institute hosted a panel discussion at the old parliament building, Karimjee Hall, on the challenges facing the media in this election year. One of the panelist was a young blogger by the name of Maggid Mjengwa. At the point where the discussion turned to the performance of new media versus old media, it was clear that there is a division between those who lean heavily towards e-media as their preferred platform, and traditionalists who want to keep the emphasis on newspapers and magazines.
Blogging is all well and good, but traditional print media should be privileged over electronic media in the Tanzanian market for these reasons:
- Newspapers and magazines can, due to their independent physical nature as printed material function as shared reading resources. Who hasn’t had a crowd of co-readers hovering over their shoulder when they buy a morning paper to enjoy at the bus stand. You’d have to be a fool to leave your laptop lying around after you’re done reading your blog posts though.
- Printed material has some longevity: a newspaper, no matter how old, is still a physical entity that can be enjoyed for as long as it is well-preserved. It can travel, end up in different places, and be read, and reread, and sectioned, and passed on. It cannot be deleted at the whim of a server crash or an embarrassed blogger.
- Print only requires wetware in order to work. Human buys paper, enjoys paper. No need for investment in a computer, an anti-virus program, an internet connection, the services of an IT technician and a copy of Windows XP for when your version of Vista crashes. Officially, not that many of us are living on more than two dollars a day and expecting any of that hard-earned cash to go towards the above-listed items is building castles in the sky.
- The Internet is a democratic space- anyone can say anything. Blogs are therefore not held to the same standards of integrity as traditional print media. However poor in quality our newspapers are, at least there are more determinants of quality than the number of ‘hits’ that are generated. The fact that we don’t live up to these standards is due to a lack of professionalism on the part of the industry. But that’s another story.
- The quality of our public education is so low that functional literacy and numeracy is in dire straights. In places where textbooks from the government are scarcer than hen’s teeth, at least there is some access to newspapers. Instant teaching materials!
- Less than 10% of this country is electrified, and sporadically at that. As for access to the internet? Don’t allow the Blackberry class delude you into thinking this is easily attainable or dependable. If you don’t live in a well-served area (i.e. The City), you are at best subject to the vagaries of TTCL and at worst completely irrelevant. We are all waiting for SeaCom or EASSY to propel us into the 21st century, but in the meantime we can always just buy a newspaper.
This is all to say that discussions around appropriate technologies are more interesting than faddism that is obsessed with what is going on in the West and expects to replicate it here. Print is not on its way out in Tanzania: it has hardly even explored its full potential. The only concession that can be considered is the potential of mobile telephones due to its incredible penetration: put a 3G phone in the hands of every mobile phone user in Tanzania and we might just have an e-media revolution that allows content longer than 300 characters. That would be truly exciting.