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Sausage making and news reporting on Zanzibar: GetReligion, February 27, 2014 April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Get Religion, Press criticism, Terrorism.
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Otto von Bismark’s reputed maxim: “Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made …” could be applied to the crafting of a news story.

Most readers do not concern themselves with how a story came to be and accept the finished product of a news story as “the story.” In the age of the internet and declining standards and budgets for the once great news outlets this is not always a wise move.

Now approaching everything one reads with absolute skepticism is a tedious business. There will always be cranks who see the hidden hands of Freemasons, international Jewry or the vast right wing conspiracy lurking behind the text. Readers must balance their skepticism against the trust they have in the publication or author.

If Walter Cronkite said it, it had to be true. If it appears in the National Enquirer it has to be false.

But as history has shown us, the icons of of good and bad journalism, like the sayings everyone knows to be true because we’ve heard them so often, are not always so.Walter Cronkite in his broadcast of Feb 27, 1968 was wrong about the Tet Offensive, the National Enquirer was right about John Edwards in 2007, and Otto von Bismarknever said anything about laws and sausages.

These musings were prompted by a story in the Washington Post from the Religion News Service entitled “Bombs explode Zanzibar calm as religious tensions flare” where RNS bungles the lede.

In the classical Anglo-American style of reporting the lede sentence is where the voice of the author is heard. The lede lays down the tracks that sets the destination for the news train that follows. My instructors in the craft likened the process to organizing a goods train. While the lede gives the destination and names the passengers and freight, the paragraphs that follow are akin to freight cars — each with its own cargo.

Opinions are welcome, but they should be from identifiable third parties, as is analysis, but it should be identified as such. This differs from advocacy reporting where facts are interspersed with opinion throughout a story in order to convince the reader of the merits of the writer’s view.

The RNS story begins:

After months of calm in Zanzibar, two homemade bombs exploded Monday (Feb. 24) near St. Monica Anglican Cathedral and the Mercury restaurant, a popular hangout for tourists visiting the Indian Ocean archipelago.

No one was hurt, but one day earlier, four people were injured in another explosion, targeting an Assemblies of God church.

The article then proceeds to lay out the name of the suspected attackers, offer a comment from the Anglican bishop of the island, and then provide background on past attacks by Islamic militants on Christians and tourists in Zanzibar. These paragraphs are fine, but the lede I find problematic.

A disclaimer — I have visited the cathedral in Zanzibar and know its dean (the priest in charge). This having been said, the name of the cathedral is Christ Church Cathedral. St. Monica’s is the hostel next to the cathedral.

The dean emailed me shortly after the blast with news of the attack stating the bombs exploded at the entrance to the cathedral compound. In 2012 St Monica’s was damaged by a mob of Islamic militants — but this time round it was the cathedral that was attacked.

It might well be the case that the bishop quoted in the article said St Monica’s had been damaged in the blast and this was interpreted by the reporter to mean the cathedral. This is not a fatal error.

What concerns me more, however, is the opening phrase “after months of calm”. The article appears to contradict this assertion by noting an Assemblies of God church was attacked earlier in the week. But if the author means to imply that this attack came out of the blue — and broke a tranquility of the island, then he is seriously misinformed.

There has been an on-going campaign of aggression against native Christians in Zanzibar waged by the Islamic terror group named in the article. Western news sources pick up reports of European tourists, Catholic priests and Anglican cathedrals being attacked, but the harassment of the Christian minority is a daily fact of life.

Setting the direction of the story by implying the bombing of Christ Church Cathedral was an aberration that broke “months of calm” creates a false framework. While this is a wire service story and there is only so much context that can be given — it would have helped explain the story by noting there will be a referendum in April in Zanzibar on Tanzania’s new constitution. The militants want Zanzibar to secede from Tanzania and establish the island as an Islamic republic.

The story would have been improved had RNS tied the political to the religious aspects of this story.

Sausage making photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First published at GetReligion.

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Jihad fears for Zanzibar: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution, Terrorism.
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Church leaders in Tanzania report the government has cracked down on Islamist extremists following two days of rioting in Zanzibar.

Members of the Islamist militant group Uamsho — the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation – took to the streets on 28-29 May 2012 in protest to the arrest their leaders by police.  Emails received from clergy in Zanzibar report that militants clashed with police and burned two Christian churches, shutting down Stone Town — the central business and tourist district of Zanzibar.

In a letter printed on 2 June 2012 in the Guardian of Dar es Salaam, three Zanzibari Christian leaders, Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Catholic Church, Bishop Michael Hafidh of the Anglican Church and Pentecostal Pastor Timothy Philemon of the Pentecostal Church, warned that Muslim fanatics were plotting to destroy all churches and church related buildings – schools, convents, cemeteries and heath centers on the island.  Members of their churches were receiving mobile text messages warning them to leave the island or face death.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of about 1 million people merged with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern Tanzania, but Zanzibar retains its own president and parliament. Tanzania is set to introduce a new constitution in 2014, and Uamsho has urged voters to push for dissolution of the union with Tanganyika.

After meeting with government ministers on 31 May 2012, Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa read a statement to the press on behalf of the country’s Christian leaders.  “Our followers are living in fear, because of what happened to our churches some few days,” the Anglican archbishop said, adding “there is also displeasure, on the part [of Christians] over government inaction and failure to take those responsible to court,” he said.

“This is not the first time” he noted, stating that “25 churches have been burned so far in different parts of Zanzibar, and the government is quiet, despite the initiatives taken to report the incidents to the police. We don’t know who should bear the blame.”

The archbishop, who is also chairman of the Tanzanian council of churches, added that government inaction had created the “impression that these acts have government blessing.”

“The government is duty-bound to extensively trace them and bring them to book – in order to restore public trust and confidence in the government,” he said.

Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein responded on 1 June saying his government was “conducting a thorough assessment before taking necessary measures, including the possibility of compensation.”

Speaking to the press, Dr. Shein said the government had banned unauthorized religious meetings, assemblies and demonstrations as a threat to public order.  “We will not allow the peace and harmony created by the National Unity Government to be threatened by a few individuals who are using a religious umbrella” to shelter their political ambitions.

An Anglican clergyman who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from extremists told CEN the dispute appears to have died down. Zanzibar “is always fragile and relations between the ruling Muslims and religious minorities touchy,” he said.

“It doesn’t help for the media in general to exaggerate and sensationalize” as it “puts more pressure on the Christians” which “can really cause problems.”

The roots of the current dispute, he said were political.  Opposition leaders want an independent Zanzibar.   “They’re being particularly problematic during this time of constitutional review,” he clergyman said, adding that at present “Christian leaders are asking for the protections promised by the president” of Zanzibar.

Dr. Shein “has always been a public advocate for religious freedom and was very gracious in his speech last month at the consecration of the new Anglican bishop.”

However, the “situation generally is stable now everything is calm [with] things moving as usual” sources in Zanzibar report.  The government has intervened “and they are dealing accordingly with the Muslim group which caused the riot.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.