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Tanzania boasts over 130 ethnic groups, all with their own languages and cultural traditions. Two out of three of around 57.3 million Tanzanians are Christian, while every third person is a Muslim. Only 1.8 percent believe in folk religions nowadays. Although almost 70 % of the population lives in rural areas, media are mostly produced in the country’s economic and political center, Dar es Salaam. Newspapers are available predominantly in urban areas, while only radio reaches to the far-off regions. This gap in distribution, as well as the literacy rate of around 78% influences the way Tanzanians consume information: most of them have access to radio, TV is affordable and accessible to some, and only a minority has access to printed media.

Media operates in English and Swahili

While still over 100 local languages exist, the Tanzanian government has adopted a linguistic policy that makes English and Swahili co-official languages while the latter is the national language. In practice, Swahili is used in administration, education (primary school) and public communication. The status of this language has historical roots as Swahili presented a means of cohesion: it was meant to unite and to give a sense of identity to the multi-ethnical country. Today, Tanzania is one of few countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the press publishes predominantly in the national language Swahili, in which the readership is fully literate, while in most of the other countries in the region, the printed press retains the languages of colonial legacy - English, French, or Portuguese. Most of the popular radio and TV programs in Tanzania are aired in Swahili, too.

Weakening public support of media

In 2013, two third of the population identified themselves as being very interested in the news and sharing a clear perception that the Tanzanian media is improving. Back then, they criticized professionalism and diversity of content which was perceived to be weaknesses across all three media types. Nevertheless, according to an Ipsos/TMF (Tanzania Media Fund) study, Tanzanians appreciated the watchdog function of the media: they believed that media has to hold the Government accountable and the citizenry informed about what the Government is doing.

Since then, this support seems to have weakened. Over the past five years, less and less Tanzanians think that media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control. According to the 2017 Afrobarometer, the contrary is the case: 56% agree or agree strongly with the statement: “the government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it considers harmful to society”. At the same time, fewer citizens (46%) say they feel free to express their opinions.

However looking at the African continent and beyond, Tanzanians’ trust in media still appears to exceed the trust level in democracies, and equals or exceeds trust in other national institutions, such as governmental officials. Several studies found respective evidence. However on should keep in mind that those studies might be only compared with caution, because of differences in the question’s wording, methodology and research periods.

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