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“MISA: Media Institute of Southern Africa”

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Media Censorship in Tanzania

The freedom of Speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to a speedy and fair trial are some of the things we, as American citizens take for granted on a daily basis. Unfortunately, due to corrupt and unorganized governments, citizens of Africa aren’t always able to reap these benefits. Governments censor the media so the people hear only what they want them to hear. They wrongly accuse many, and sometimes end the situation swiftly by executing the unlucky person. There is a source of hope however. Non-governmental organizations are private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, and undertake community development projects. The basis of these organizations came from outside parties who believed the politically corrupt and ethnically tied governments would be unable to solve the nations problems. Another benefit was to start with the grassroots of the nation and provide programs that help the people of Africa help themselves. NGO’s are value-based organizations that depend on charitable donations and voluntary services. The key to the reasons why NGO’s are successful is the fact that all money and effort put into the program bypasses the government. The government is unable to get their fingers on any money so it then goes directly into the community.

I chose to research an NGO in the country of Tanzania. After Tanzania gained independence in 1961, they made attempts at starting a fair and equally representing government, but virtually failed when the power fell into the hands of a monopolistic government. By 1967, Tanzania’s infrastructure was crumbling and therefore made them one of the least developed countries in the world, and has remained so to this day.

The NGO I chose to research is called MISA, which stands for Media Institute of Southern Africa. They are an advocacy non-governmental organization that promotes actions pertaining to their mission, act on media freedom violations, and conduct research as the basis of specialized and popularized publications. They encourage the citizens to organize programs of their own and to join in the fight against censorship. MISA is an NGO with members in 11 of the Southern Africa Development Community countries. Officially launched in September 1992, MISA focuses primarily on the need to promote free, independent and pluralistic media. As a principal means of nurturing democracy and human rights in Africa, MISA seeks ways to promote the free flow in information to all.

MISA is a particular NGO that African governments do not like. Many African governments are repressive, and resorted to censorship because they wished to control the environment and thus be impregnable to danger (much like how Hitler did to the Jews in the ghettos during WWII). Fortunately for the people, outsiders saw this and realized it as a problem and took steps to resolve it. MISA is one such prospect for resolution of this problem. Oftentimes however, the governments take steps to keep programs like MISA out of the picture. Heavy taxing and harassment are ways they do so.

On the other hand, MISA has few internal problems. They are one of the few NGO’s that have remained well funded, and have had few organizational obstacles.

The issue of censorship is one that is hard to break the political and historical barriers of. Censorship has been an issue that has been questioned since the beginning of time. Henry Kamen, a writer of the sixteenth century writes:

“The issue at stake is the liberty of an individual to dissent from an official truth. Has the State, in its function as an auxiliary of the church or even in its own right as guardian of the social order, any right to repress heresy? And does the individual–if he appeals to the principle that belief cannot be forced–have any right to freedom of conscience?”.

Also, Plato would banish poets from his ideal republic because they spoke falsehoods about the gods. Religion, politics, and sex are areas of human life which call forth the censorial instinct. It is an issue that takes time and persistence to overcome, much like the civil rights movements in the United States. If MISA continually protests unjust doings by the government, and educates citizens of how to take strides towards breaking these barriers, they will be very successful in accomplishing their goals.

One particular incident exemplifies the mission of MISA. On February 26, the government threatened to shut down all newspapers that published stories or cartoons that defamed the president or were found to be rebellious. The threat was made by the Director of Tanzania Information Services, Kassim Mpenda, at a ceremony launching “Media Watch”, the Tanzania Media Council newsletter. During the ceremony, Mpenda urged journalists to be mindful of their work, as it would be the only way to safeguard their profession. This particular incident occurred in Tanzania, but there are also MISA programs in action in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

One method in which this NGO meets the community needs is by putting out a newsletter called “Campaign for Broadcasting Diversity”. The newsletter encourages an open system of broadcast licensing, editorial independence and the introduction of a “three tier system” of broadcasting. This system compromises of public, commercial and community broadcasters, which as a whole can provide services that assist in the development and maintenance of democracy. MISA also campaigns for legislation and policies that will establish independent broadcasting licensing bodies, ensure editorial independence in broadcasting, and promote and develop broadcasting to better serve the information and development needs of the rural and urban poor.

This NGO has potential to greatly help address other specific contemporary country problems. If MISA accomplishes their goals, the people of Zimbabwe will be able to learn of news and events that are happening in their country. Once they are aware of what is happening around them, they will be more inspired to bring about change. In one aspect, this NGO could be one of the most influential NGO’s to be instituted in Africa.

Looking back at what I’ve learned about NGO’s and their influences, I believe that they are extremely positive programs that greatly help countries solve their problems. There are very few weaknesses of NGO’s. Some of which are a limited financial budget, little management expertise, and low levels of self-sustainability. However, with more organization and participation, most of the weaknesses can be overcome. The strengths of NGO’s greatly outweigh the weaknesses. These include the ability to innovate and adapt, they provide a process-oriented approach to development, and are very cost effective. Furthermore, One of the most important strengths is the strong grassroots links that they provide. The people of Africa seem very willing to learn things and use their knowledge to help themselves. Here in the USA, people seem extremely lazy and are way to dependent on the government. We have a vast amount of knowledge right at our fingertips, especially with the emergence of the internet. We have all this knowledge and people just choose not to use their minds and capabilities. That is a rather disconcerting thought.

NGO’s like the Media Institute of Southern Africa are put in place to help the environment, the economy, and most importantly the people. They help avoid government corruption and attack the problem head on rather than beating around the bush in the political arena. It is inspiring to know that there are organizations out there with the soul purpose of helping people.

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