WHY NO TELEVISION?

This question has often been asked about broadcasting in mainland Tanzania. In part, the answer lies in the establishment of radio in the last decade of colonial Tanganyika, and in the sequence of events, pressures, conflicts and personalities in the immediate run-up to independence and very shortly afterwards.

Regular broadcasting from Dar es Salaam began in 1951; it had few listeners, temporary equipment and was acutely short of African staff to be trained for operational duties. Help came with money from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund and with engineering staff seconded from the BBC. By 1955 transmitter coverage was practically nationwide in 1956 legislation was enacted to establish the Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation – the TBC.

The dynamism to build up the new organisation came from Tom Chalmers, also from the BBC, who was experienced in both radio and television. Earlier he had been the first Director of Broadcasting in Nigeria. There he had nurtured national broadcasting from a tiny operation serving the capital, Lagos, into a nationwide service with national and regional programmes. His task in Tanganyika, was perhaps more daunting there was less money available from the colonial coffers and getting that money released from the Treasury was excruciatingly slow; there was a very limited number of Africans with the educational background appropriate for training as producers, engineers and administrators. In February 1961 he could write to former colleagues in the BBC ‘last year there were only 64 African graduates in the whole country – and I have three!

Chalmers was in a hurry. He was sensitive to the gathering speed of political change in Africa. He wanted more than one national service to cover the country and to have regional stations outside Dar es Salaam as well as school broadcasting. In Nigeria he had been instrumental in putting political broadcasts on the air; it was not long before Dar es Salaam was broadcasting (in English and Swahili) reports on the day’s business in the Legislative Council.

In his annual report for 1959 Chalmers recorded that Julius Nyerere had broadcast on several occasions, especially in December; political leaders had been interviewed and had taken part in discussion programmes, and it was hoped that TBC would be able in 1961 to establish responsible political broadcasting in all its various forms.

Throughout the annual reports at the time there is recurrent reference to shortages of money. One of the reports, now in BBC Written Archives, was sent with a note of apology for the format – ‘We are too poor to print it’. The sub-title is ‘How to run a broadcasting service without spending any money’.

The speed of final political advancement presented acute problems. Chalmers was anxious that he should hand over to an African with some experience and professional training in broadcasting.

Let us turn now to January 1962 – one month after Independence. TBC was under sharp attack in the Swah11i press – not least for the BBC’s influence over it. Clearly Chalmers had to give way to an African. He moved swiftly. He obtained approval for Mr. M Mdoe, the Director of Programmes, to succeed him; Chalmers would stay as Technical Adviser.

One of Mdoe’s first acts was to circulate a memorandum to all staff calling for a change in mental attitudes and the Africanisation of all the programme output NOW. That implied much more than dropping the relay of BBC programmes; it meant Africanising the content of programmes. “We are now able to stand on our own feet; let us do so and take some bold steps forward” Mdoe wrote.

As Technical Adviser Chalmers could detach himself from day to day operations and think strategically. He had kept in touch with Nigeria. He had first-hand information about the television service – ‘First in Africa’ – that the Action Group Government in the Western Region had rushed through with the help of expatriate contractors as a political ploy in 1959; the transmitter outside Lagos would come on the air in time for the Federal elections. This venture triggered off a chain reaction in Nigeria – the other regional governments were thinking how they could counter this – and in Ghana too. That such a service would be almost entirely dependent on a diet of imported films with many Westerns and ‘cops and robbers’ was entirely alien to the concept of building an African broadcasting service for Africans. Chalmers was also fully aware of the technical problems: the need for a reliable and non-fluctuating electricity supply; the likely restriction of television coverage to Dar es Salaam when radio stations were still required for many provincial centres: the problem of servicing television sets; (it was difficult enough in the early 60’s to get a radio repaired); and, above all, the cost.

At that time the newly-independent African countries were being wooed by travelling television salesmen offering package deals to put up a TV station and operate it in its early years. Usually the offer included little local material and much imported film. Just, it was said by facetious critics, two men and a boy with film and lantern slides.

The Government in Dar es Salaam was to be no exception. It too came under massive pressure. In May 1962 Chalmers was able to write ‘we have got some at least of the most influential Ministers and Party officials to see reason’. Government rejected all the offers. Broadcasting was to concentrate on radio and that was to be made an effective instrument for Government – and for the people.
Charles Armour

Mr. CHARLES ARMOUR retired from the BBC in 1981 as Head of School Radio. He was Controller, Western region and Director of Programmes, Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation from 1956 to 1962. He is grateful to the BBC’c Written Archives Centre for documentation he has been able to study.

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » 36 YEARS OF TANZANIAN AFFAIRS – PART 1 said,

    September 3, 2011 at 10:51 am

    […] well informed piece on the history of radio broadcasting in Tanzania answers the question “Why no Television?” (Tanzania still being without any mainland TV broadcasters). A letter from Roy Galbraith in […]

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