by Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: It occurs to me that most of my colleagues and friends probably don’t know there is a journalism code of ethics. Here it is. If you feel a journalist isn’t living up to these goals, call their boss or the umbrella journalists association. You will be taken seriously.
Fatoumatta: Any real journalist worth their salt abides by this code, which has hung in every office or newsroom I’ve had since I took news writing 101.
Fatoumatta: There are many ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people—who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and few professional journalists will endorse it—calling it ‘vengeful’ and ‘primitive’ and ‘perverse’ regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. ‘That kind of stuff is an opinion,’ they say, ‘and the reader is cheated if it’s not labeled as opinion.’
Fatoumatta: Well … maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers, and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his foul ends.… And perhaps some bloggers should have been locked up for trying to pass off his opinions on gullible readers as typical ‘objective journalism.’
Fatoumatta: I told you that to tell you this, and it is inaccurate and facile to say things like “all the media is biased” or even, “that’s just the mainstream media lying.” If you say that, I’ll happily wager that you are only listening to commentators with whom you agree. And that’s fine. It’s entertainment, just like a romance novel or a popcorn flick. But when you apply the entertainment standard to journalism, you’re denigrating your own constitutional right to access to a free press. You’re afraid the government will take your liberty and afraid they will make your presses?
Fatoumatta: Look, there are good teachers and bad teachers, good lawyers and bad lawyers, good economists, and lousy economists. Good cops, corrupt cops. Good bricklayers & bad bricklayers. Same as reporters, same as news outlets. Don’t believe anyone, even the President, who tells you, “All (ANYTHING) is bad/wrong/lies.”
Fatoumatta: Understand the difference between journalists and commentators. Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday is a well-respected journalist. Sean Hannity is a partisan commentator, as is John Oliver.
Also, understand the difference between journalism and what we now call “fake news — deciding which is not about whether you agree. It’s about whether it is. Calling legitimate news, you don’t like “fake news” is like calling a dog a turtle because you wish it were a turtle.
Fatoumatta: Finally, and here’s the big thing: Good journalists sometimes get it wrong, but they work to remedy it. It occurs to me that most of you probably have never read the journalism code of ethics. Try to get a copy from the Gambia Press Union. If you feel a journalist isn’t living up to these goals, call their boss. You will be taken seriously. Any real reporter worth their salt abides by journalist code of ethics, which has hung in every newsroom and please end rantings.
Late William Dixon Colley, one of the doyens in Gambian journalism, understood that politics—as used in journalism—was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it. In my case, using what politely might be called ‘advocacy journalism,’ I’ve used reporting as a weapon to affect political situations that bear down on my environment.
by Alagi Yorro Jallow