Taifa Stars
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When comments in social media should not be elevated into news

Tanzania's forward Simon Msuva controls the ball during the Africa Cup of Nations 2024 group F football match between Zambia and Tanzania at Stade Laurent Pokou in San Pedro on January 21, 2024.

Photo credit: Courtesy | AFP

A Nation sports story published last week elevated some insulting comments in the social media to legitimate news. By dignifying the insults, the story acquired the potential to contribute to inter-country tensions.

The insults denigrate Tanzania’s Taifa Stars, a symbol of national pride and patriotism. Insulting a national football team, of any country, is a no-no.

The NMG editorial policy holds that the standard of writing and presentation sports news will not deviate from that required for other stories.

NMG further states no content should be picked up from social media sites and used “unless it satisfies the verification, sourcing, etc. criteria”.

NMG also says news reports or commentaries shouldn’t be written in a manner likely to inflame passions, aggravate tension or accentuate the strained relations between the parties concerned. “Equally so, content with the potential to exacerbate communal animosity or national conflict should be avoided,” the editorial policy states.

The comments taunting Taifa Stars come against a backdrop of a war of words that goes back to the 1970s. Then President Julius Nyerere, disdainful of capitalism, described Kenya as “a man-eat-man society”. Kenya retorted by calling Tanzania “a man eat-nothing society”.

The offending comments are contained in “Kenyans poke fun at Tanzanians after Afcon defeat” (Nation.Africa, Jan. 11, 2024). The story appears in the Daily Nation, on Jan. 12, as “Tanzanians crushed in first match, but do Kenyans care?”

The comments followed the 3-0 defeat of Taifa Stars by Morocco’s Atlas Lions in the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2024 in Cote d’Ivoire. Taifa Stars represents East Africa. Kenya’s Harambee Stars and Uganda’s Cranes did not qualify.

The comments dismissing Taifa Stars are “Ndege iliowaleta isizimwe, safari ya kurudi Dar ii karibu sana - the plane which brought you shouldn't be switched off, the journey back to Dar is nearing,” “These guys are still far from football they should focus on singing,” and “They could have been hired to entertain fans with Bongo music.”

One other comment, though contemptuous, could be forgiven as an attempt to analyse the game rather than to give offence: “Looked disorganised, lacked vision, lacked tactical and technical discipline, ill-prepared,” it said. “Got lost throughout the game. Was more of a Third Division side. Complete letdown. Too bad.”

The humiliating comments were made as Tanzania President Suluhu Hassan was urging Taifa Stars to keep playing without losing hope. “A good game tonight for our national players, even though luck was not on our side. We continue to wish you all the best and the nation is behind you in your next matches,” she wrote in her Instagram account, which carried a picture of the Taifa Stars. In another pep talk, she promised to reward every goal they score during the finals.

The disrespectful comments by Kenyans stood out because they were neither necessary nor justifiable in a news story that should have been an analysis of the Tanzania-Morocco game. The Atlas Lions scored the three goals after Taifa Stars midfielder and professional footballer Novatus Miroshi was sent off because of a foul, leaving only 10 men. Taifa Stars managed only two shots against Atlas Lions’ 14, and none of them were on target. They had two corners against Atlas Lions five. The Nation story could have taken such a route of game analysis rather than merely sneering at the Taifa Stars.

Instead of analysing the game, the reporter chose to harp on the historical rivalry between Kenya and Tanzania. The story utilises the top one-third of the write-up to talk about the Biblical verse, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. The story says: “In football, the biblical concept of loving one’s neighbour is seemingly not holding. Many Kenyan fans went gaga and celebrated Tanzania's 3-0 loss to Morocco… In what may be interpreted as an act of jealousy for not being at the 2023 Afcon, many Kenyans took to social media to celebrate the Taifa Stars loss, gleefully tearing into how Tanzania played.”

However, the derisive comments cannot justify the story pitting Kenyans against Tanzanians. After all, the story cited only three people making the insulting comments. The story is overblown. It’s also provocative, inflammatory, and a breach of the standards of decency and good taste advocated by the NMG editorial policy.

- The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected]. Call or text 0721989264