FOE in the Digital Age: Threats, Opportunities & Way Forward for Online Media

The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) recently hosted the National Forum on Freedom of Expression (FoE) and Media Laws on June 27, 2024 at the Delta Hotels Marriot, Dar es Salaam. Themed “Assessing the Current Legal and Policy Framework Governing Freedom of Expression & Media Rights in Tanzania: Progress and Challenges,“.  The event brought together thought leaders to share insights, experiences, and expertise, aiming to formulate a way forward for the future of Freedom of Expression in Tanzania.

The primary objective of the National Forum was to provide a platform for human rights and media stakeholders in Tanzania to assess and take stock of the current legal and policy landscape governing freedom of expression and media operations in the country. The forum also aimed to develop joint action plans on media-related laws among stakeholders, including representatives from the government, such as the Law Reform Commission, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance, TCRA, and the Responsible Ministry.

Tech and Media Convergency (TMC) was part of the event represented by the Policy and Programs Coordinator together with the Chief Executive Officer, who served as a panelist in a significant panel discussion titled “Threats and Opportunities for Online Media: What is the Way Forward?”

The Panel Discussion

Moderated by Dr. Francis Magare of the East African Human Rights Institute (EAHRI), the panel discussion on “Threats and Opportunities for Online Media: What is the Way Forward?” featured a diverse group of speakers. The panel included John Marwa, a media owner of Jambo TV; Masoud Kipanya, a political cartoonist and journalist; Dr. Bravious Kahyoza, Executive Manager of the Jumuiya ya Wanahabari wa Mitandao ya Kijamii Tanzania (JUMIKITA); and Asha D. Abinallah, CEO of Tech and Media Convergency (TMC).

The panelists brought in a rich converging perspectives of the legal framework, the suffocating operating environments is some kind of content, the dynamics of working with a group of Journalists and Media who had different level of skillset, knowledge, opportunities, accessibility and personal safety.

From the right is Dr. Francis Magare of the East African Human Rights Institute (EAHRI), Dr. Bravious Kahyoza, Executive Manager of the Jumuiya ya Wanahabari wa Mitandao ya Kijamii Tanzania (JUMIKITA), Asha D. Abinallah, CEO of Tech & Media Convergency (TMC), John Marwa, a Media owner of Jambo TV and Masoud Kipanya, a Political Cartoonist and Journalist
Opportunities for Online Digital Media

If explored properly, effectively by considering the local needs of the Tanzanians – online media can purely revolutionize how information is disseminated and consumed, providing unprecedented opportunities to media operations and its revenue. The opportunities might seem not possible for those who do not use innovative approaches and learn the ways and means of what and how would be the best way of leveraging out of information online as a Media actor. It goes without saying a lot of investments in learning and being curios on the best way of leveraging on innovative digital solutions and tools. The following are some of the opportunities.

Innovation in News Presentation

Online Media has room to explore and test what can and cannot work. Innovating around news presentation is crucial in today’s fast-paced digital world. However, the success of these innovations depends on their alignment with local contexts. In Tanzania, understanding cultural nuances, language preferences, and local information consumption habits is vital.

For instance, leveraging around the Swahili language itself identifying a gap that is truly required can enhance engagement, accessibility and partnerships in making news more relatable and trustworthy. As shared at the panel, such innovative mindset has greatly benefited the renowned journalist Masoud Kipanya. He shared how his creative representation of political events and current issues through art makes it challenging to hold him accountable, as it is viewed as artistic expression. However, the economic repercussions affect Kipanya himself, as his sources of income suffer due to the associated risks and threats.

Emerging Technologies

The adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and big data analytics can revolutionize media operations. AI can automate routine tasks, allowing journalists to focus on in-depth reporting and investigative journalism. Machine learning algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to identify trends, predict audience preferences, and personalize content. Big data analytics can provide insights into audience behavior, enabling media houses to tailor their content strategies effectively. One of the most important and basic AI tool at the moment for journalists in the Tanzanian context is ChatGPT, Mid-Journey, Quillbot and others.

Amplification on Multiple Digital Platforms

Tanzanians netizens have different demographic behavior across platforms. The proliferation of digital platforms offers an unprecedented reach for media content. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, along with video-sharing sites like YouTube, provide powerful tools for news dissemination. These platforms allow for real-time interaction with audiences, fostering a two-way communication channel that traditional media lacks. However, the challenge lies in managing content across multiple platforms and ensuring consistent quality and accuracy.

User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, UGC can provide diverse perspectives and real-time coverage of events, enhancing the richness of news content. On the other hand, it requires rigorous vetting to ensure accuracy and credibility. Media organizations must develop robust mechanisms to verify UGC, such as using fact-checking tools and collaborating with reliable sources to maintain journalistic standards. Nevertheless, when the facts are straight they are the most reliable source of information.

Free Programs for Media Literacy and Emerging Technologies

It has never been easy to learn new skills for online media for free as ever before. For a serious online media, they are required to always strive at becoming better and go with trends when it comes to Technology adaptation and Media Information Literacy for Media Development. Such Media self learning programs are offered by agencies like UNESCO, Coursera, Click Institute, Nukta Africa and many more – play a crucial role in empowering journalists with the necessary skills to navigate the digital landscape.

These programs can enhance journalists’ understanding of digital tools, data privacy, misinformation and cybersecurity, equipping them to handle the complexities of digital media. Additionally, continuous professional development through such programs ensures that journalists stay updated with the latest technological advancements and industry best practices.

Threats for Online Digital Media

Sometimes media organizations face complex hurdles that can undermine their operations and the integrity of the information they disseminate. These challenges, which span technical, economic, and social dimensions, require comprehensive strategies to ensure that digital media can continue to serve the public effectively and ethically. Addressing these threats is crucial to maintaining the trust of audiences and safeguarding the foundational principles of free expression and accurate reporting.

Legal Framework

The restrictive legal framework in Tanzania, exemplified by the EPOCA Online Content Regulations of 2020, poses a significant barrier to the growth of digital media. These regulations often impose financial burdens and operational constraints on media organizations, stifling innovation. Advocacy for more supportive legal and regulatory environments is crucial. Media organizations should engage with policymakers to promote laws that encourage digital innovation while safeguarding freedom of expression.

For example, John Marwa shared a series of challenges faced by his online TV station, highlighting how they have been victims of regulatory hurdles. He explained that the respective authority is legally allowed to refuse the renewal of an online TV license after its three-year expiry, which forced them to change their name to Jambo TV.

Digital Security

The digital landscape is fraught with security vulnerabilities. Cyberattacks such as hacking, phishing, and ransomware pose significant threats to media organizations. Ensuring robust cybersecurity measures, such as encryption, secure servers, and regular security audits, is imperative. Additionally, training journalists on digital hygiene practices can mitigate the risk of cyber threats.

Economic Challenges

Sustaining digital media operations in an economically challenging environment requires innovative financial strategies. Traditional advertising models are no longer sufficient; media organizations must explore alternative revenue streams. Implementing subscription models, paywalls for premium content, and partnering with tech companies for sponsored content can provide financial stability.

Misinformation and Fake News

The spread of misinformation and fake news undermines the credibility of digital media. Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach: developing advanced fact-checking systems, collaborating with fact-checking organizations, and educating the public on media literacy. Building a culture of skepticism and critical thinking among audiences can help combat the influence of false information.

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

When an online media is responsible of technology-facilitated GBV (TFGBV), it is usually fueled and influenced by engagement farming this is a concerning issue that needs urgent attention. Ensuring online safety for journalists, particularly women and content or stories about women online, involves creating supportive environments and implementing strict policies against harassment. Training journalists on handling online abuse and providing psychological support can also help mitigate the impact of GBV. Presently, TMC is working on the agenda to create awareness for the journalists and media actors building on the report titled, “A Comprehensive Analysis: Uncovering Journalistic Perspectives on OGBV”, that was launched early this year.

The Way Forward
  • Digital literacy is fundamental in empowering the public to navigate the digital information landscape effectively. Educational campaigns and workshops can equip individuals with the skills to critically evaluate online information, identify credible sources, and recognize misinformation.
  • Investing in advanced cybersecurity infrastructure is essential to protect media organizations from cyber threats. This includes implementing multi-factor authentication, regular software updates, and employing cybersecurity experts to monitor and respond to potential threats.
  • Exploring diverse revenue models can provide financial sustainability for digital media. Subscription services, crowdfunding, and branded content are viable options. Engaging audiences through exclusive content and membership benefits can also drive revenue.
  • Prioritizing quality journalism over quantity ensures that media organizations maintain credibility and trust. In-depth reporting, investigative journalism, and fact-checked news should be the focus, providing audiences with reliable and valuable information.
  • Building alliances with other media organizations, tech companies, and fact-checking groups can strengthen media operations. Collaborative efforts can lead to resource sharing, joint investigations, and broader reach, enhancing the overall quality and impact of journalism.
  • Navigating the regulatory landscape requires media organizations to stay informed about legal requirements and actively engage in advocacy efforts. By participating in policy discussions and providing feedback to regulators, media organizations can influence the development of supportive legal frameworks.
  • Maintaining high ethical standards is crucial for media organizations. Adherence to journalistic principles such as accuracy, fairness, and transparency builds public trust. Ethical journalism also involves being accountable for content and correcting errors promptly.
  • Embracing new technologies such as AI and machine learning can enhance content creation and distribution. These technologies can help automate tasks, personalize content, and analyze audience data, making media operations more efficient and effective.

By addressing these challenges and leveraging opportunities, Tanzania can foster a vibrant media environment that upholds freedom of expression and meets the needs of its digital society. The insights and action plans developed at the National Forum on Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in Tanzania are pivotal in guiding the way forward for media stakeholders in the country.

At the Forum, our CEO, Asha D. Abinallah having a moment with Kenneth Simbaya the Executive Director of UTPC (at the center) and Absalom Kibanda Analyst and Former Chair Tanzania Editors’ Forum