#bombsindar: Gongo la Mboto, the media event, as told by Twitter

The explosions at Gongo la Mboto on Wednesday were a huge tragedy in human terms and a huge embarrassment for the government in general and the army in particular. But they also showed up the state of the Tanzanian media in a less-than-positive light. Coverage of what’s probably Tanzania’s biggest news event of the year has been disappointing.

For various reasons I wasn’t able to follow TV or radio news directly, only indirectly via Twitter, Facebook and Jamii Forums. Journalism was once famously described as the first rough draft of history, but perhaps there’s now an even earlier “zero draft” available: the twitter feed recording an event as it unfolds.

Here’s how twitter’s zero draft of history recorded the Tanzanian traditional media’s response to the Gongo la Mboto explosions. It is not 100% comprehensive, but it includes the most significant tweets reporting or commenting specifically on the Tanzanian traditional (print and broadcast) media coverage of the blasts that I could find on the #bombsindar hashtag history.

Some tentative conclusions: Nobody shone, to the extent of feeding conspiracy theories. TBC and Channel 10 come out worst, slow to respond and broadcasting space-filling content (e.g. music videos, cartoons) at key moments in a time of crisis. They come in for significant criticism in the tweets above, including from such important political figures as January Makamba. ITV did a little better, and radio better still – particularly Radio One and CloudsFM. The print media did ok in terms of their core function: coverage in the press over the following couple of days, but did not make any effort to use their websites for more regular updates.

Covering breaking news in a time of crisis is not easy. Throw in the complications that the story broke at night, the widespread power cuts, the transport chaos and overstretched mobile phone networks in the immediate aftermath and the lack of information coming from either the army or from government, and the media’s struggles in this case are very understandable. But there’s still plenty that could have been done better.

If the TV stations had any plans in place for covering breaking news events, these plans failed. If they didn’t have such plans, why not? The contrast between TBCs coverage of these explosions and their excellent coverage of the elections is striking – though that of course was a highly predictable event for which planning was much easier.

Overall, the traditional media’s coverage of the explosions smacks of complacency. Poor pre-planning and no real striving to catch up. In comparison, coverage on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and Jamii Forums was miles ahead.

But let me give the last word to Shurufu (who else?), who summed up the media coverage with perhaps the most revealing tweet of this whole episode:

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Originally posted on Daraja’s blog, at http://blog.daraja.org/2011/02/bombsindar-gongo-la-mboto-media-event.html

6 thoughts on “#bombsindar: Gongo la Mboto, the media event, as told by Twitter

  1. swahilistreet

    Good post. I think you identify some important constraints facing print and broadcast media. I'd tentatively add some likely trepidation felt as it was a military issue.

    But let's face it: the story was told (badly)by mainstream media, not on twitter. I was on it for much of that night and the following day- deliberately to see its usefulness. WHile it iwas interesting and somewhat addictive I got no useful information apart from learning that the explosions were from Gongo la Mboto. I can only recall two or three people who were actually at the scene, or any part of it. Like the tweets you show above, most people on twitter (very few..) were using twitter to complain about mainstream media – both because it was not up to the occasion and because they weren't getting anything useful on twitter.

  2. Ben Taylor

    Thanks @swahilistreet for your thoughts.

    I agree that Twitter was much more a platform for commentary than for reporting. But both Facebook and Jamii Forums had some genuine (though far from perfect) “news” coming from people on the ground, particularly in the hours immediately after the blasts.

    And I think the extensive use of Twitter to critique media coverage is at least in part due to Twitter – in Tanzania at least – being dominated by media types. Take away @shurufu, @hakingowi, @kitindamimba, @MSTsehai, all of whom (I think) work in some way in the media, and there's not much left.

  3. swahilistreet

    fair points on facebook (which I primarily use for baby pictures) and jamii. We should also acknowledge @tzshafiq, @abbykirahi and @tandile who went beyond complaining and went out with their twitter enabled cameraphones to do some reporting.

  4. Klinton

    Yeah, great post, and a fair analysis of the situation. For me, Jamii Forums was streaks ahead of Twitter, Fbook, radio & TV. It had by far the most reliable information updated quickly. Kudos to JF for that one…

    As for the broadcast media: none of them have the capacity or experience to cover such a dramatic breaking news story. Lessons to be learned all round. The next time we have a big story breaking in Dar (who knows, maybe it will be another munitions dump, eh?), it will be interesting to see who learned the most from their failures this time around.

    A last thought: it wasn't just the media's coverage that smacked of complacency, poor planning and not striving to be up-to-date. If these three characteristics had been more prevalent within the army and government, then perhaps we wouldn't have had any breaking news story to fluff at all…

  5. Ben Taylor

    @Klinton, good points, both about the army and government and also about Jamii Forums.

    Twitter doesn't yet have critical mass in Tanzania and Facebook is too closed. But Jamii Forums manages to be both sufficiently structured so you know where to find stuff and where to comment, and has enough active members to be a meaningful source of information.

    @swahilistreet, thanks for adding the extra credits, all well deserved.

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