Alagi Yorro Jallow.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia’s media is the only industry specifically protected by the constitution. This is remarkable considering that most of the Gambia’s press is actually in private hands. However, the industry’s well-cultivated international reputation for independence and vibrant reporting has locally always been considered to be somewhat overstated, given its penchant for superficial regurgitation of politicians’ statements and unwillingness to engage in investigative reporting that establishes the truth.
In the run-up to the December 4, 2021, presidential election, the media privileged the drama of competition over its mandate to inform the electorate. However, some actual journalists did an excellent job reporting on campaign rhetoric but seemed much less able and willing to unpack the policies and issues presented by various presidential candidates. Numerous panel discussions on social media platforms and national television featured some party surrogates using persuasive messages and shouting over one another and, in the process, managing to shed more darkness on already obscure subject matters such as the technicalities of the law governing the election.
Fatoumatta: The Gambian media has yet another opportunity to redeem itself and serve the public good as the Gambia sails into the uncharted waters of a repeat presidential election and may God forbid a possible impasse or a constitutional crisis. This can do this by reclaiming the wheel from politicians and laying out the country’s agenda outside the dominant presidential candidates’ political considerations.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” An informed citizenry is the lifeblood of any healthy democracy. The media’s role in ensuring the people understand the challenges and choices facing them and hold rulers to account cannot be gainsaid. For too long, the Gambia’s media has taken this onerous responsibility for granted – it must begin to do better.
Fatoumatta: Why our “democratic process,” our journalists and our political parties in the “mountain information age gave birth to a mouse” contributing to political misperception in the Gambian electoral politics before a mostly highbrow political following with highly informed and politically active citizenry voters who are knowledgeable of political engagement and civic education, as well as domestic issues and about candidates positions.
However, the Gambia desperately needs better media more than mere watchdogs as journalists. In this Presidential election, Gambian voters were not understood. The issues they espoused were reckless even when many Gambians most probably do not agree with them. Some of those engaged in citizen journalism and yellow journalism are fond of the exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist.
Fatoumatta: Like the proverbial lone soldier, who turned a hitherto beleaguered examination system upside down in a record one examination year, the Director of education came to town and restored sanity in a bedeviled sector with runaway cheating and mushrooming knock-off institutions. Moreover, when the Director of education finally delivered the outcome, tongues were left wagging in disbelief while the cheers thundered away. Yes, it took the leadership of a maverick Director at the Ministry of Education to bring about confidence in our once celebrated education sector. Nevertheless, the Director is living testimony that discipline and professionalism can still emerge even in a crowded, chaotic theater. In this spirit, we urge fellow civic journalists, mass media pundits, those engaged in citizen journalism, bloggers, and the celebrity talkshow hosts matrix on social media to channel their inner code of ethics and professional integrity like the Director of Education and rise to the occasion because the country needs it!
It is clear that with each day that passed, news coverage appears to be diluted and contaminated than ever before. Furthermore, the consequences are rather damning; The Gambian people have lost confidence in what is being packaged as news. Many journalists and reporters, social media platforms, and radio stations have serious issues. They are taking a backseat to tribal politics, sensational social immoralities, propaganda, and many more gobbledygooks that folks are forced to contend with daily. The Gambia is on the verge of recession. The country’s nurses are planning a strike. The teachers are yet to get a meaningful collective bargaining agreement, meaning they are still bound to pull yet another mutiny rising fears are growing of a global economic slump, the low civil service salary and wages leading to less motivation, and even the Gambia Press Union (GPU) are yet to get a meaningful collective bargaining agreement, meaning journalists and media practitioners are still yet to get a decent wage and compensations. This encourages specific forms of corruption and brain drain, and the Dalasi is performing dismally in the forex market. The economy, by any serious and objective measure, is not anywhere near the irreducible minimum. Furthermore, do we see screaming headlines highlighting the aforementioned hot-button issues? Of course not!
Fatoumata: There is nothing secret about the media’s anti-Adama Barrow government. A formal declaration of war was launched after the coalition collapsed following the sackings of some cabinet ministers and coalition partners, when the private media and some social media pundits and columnists, testing the norms of objectivity in Journalism. Some citizen journalism civic journalists were in a terrible bind trying to stay objective because Adama Barrow, among other things, betrayed the coalition. So, they start, “cozies up to the opposition,” and some journalists made clear that they and other reporters viewed a Barrow presidency as something potentially dangerous, which required them to report on him with a particularly critical point of view. This, they said, would make journalists move closer than you have ever been to being oppositional, which would be uncomfortable and uncharted territory.
Granted, some folks will drop economic data to make the case that media houses are business ventures first and must also focus on their ability to generate revenue to cover overheads. This means that any exposes’ touching on key advertisers could spell a death knell by creating going concern issues. However, the professional code of ethics must also be adhered at all costs, for what are we without the most sacred tenets of our craft? Let us dare to do our jobs. Let us do what we were trained to do. Let us make it our priority to cover events as they unfold so that our esteemed viewers can get to make their judgments.
Let us unleash our inner Director of Education because, deep down, each individual in this industry has within themselves the requisite aptitude and wherewithal to spark the coveted objective conversation and pure reporting. Let us make 2021 the year of a paradigm shift in the fourth estate. After all, Barack Obama summarized this spirit with one timeless quote: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Fatoumatta: This time of the political season has placed journalism under fire because some professional Journalist, and those engaged in citizen journalism, and other social media practitioners engage in a range of unethical behaviors of reporting such as political biases, unfairness in news articles at different levels of granularity, and dishonest and unreliable practice of journalism are transforming the political communication landscape in the Gambia, raising questions about the quality, impact, and credibility of journalism, journalists orchestrating campaigns of spreading untruths, “inconvenient truths,” misinformation, mal information and misinformation that are often unwittingly shared on social media find themselves becoming a target of lies, rumors, and hoaxes designed to peddle propaganda and disinformation at the behest of their paymasters. The mainstream media and reporters also use their medium of marketing fake news and manipulating social media to undermine democracy and social engineering.
However, we know the race’s biggest loser: reporters and the profession of journalism, which has been reduced to surrogacy, mainly on behalf of the highest bidder. It is even less likely that the media, especially significant outlets and political reporters who have all but openly worked on either President Adama Barrow or the opposition’s behalf, will rethink their roles. This election will expose as never before that there is indeed a media elite, bound together by class and geography, that is utterly clueless about its own biases and filters. Many journalists covering the presidential campaign are economically privileged brats that seem blissfully unaware that for most Gambians, the economy is in recession, and people are terrified.
Fatoumatta: If you do not understand that, you cannot understand Sosalasso politics. That an addled, reckless, dangerous politicians are the last electoral hope to two of millions of Gambians may be a sad reflection of the complete breakdown of our political system. However, it does not make our politicians’ appeal to a significant chunk of the electorate illegitimate, nor does it make all of their supporter’s irrational morons and tribalists, as one gathers from news accounts and some “tangal cheeb pundits.”
How is it that citizen journalism and private media have derogated the right and responsibility to decide what presidential candidates deserve particular scrutiny and what acceptable programs and policies? In a democracy, that is supposed to be the voters’ job.
And worst of all, the role of journalists. “Liars run all governments, and nothing they say should be believed,” I.F. Stone once wrote. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want to be printed: everything else is public relations,” said George Orwell. For those two self-evident reasons, being “oppositional” is the only place political journalists should ever be, no matter who is in power or campaigning. However, for the Gambian journalists being oppositional is only “comfortable” when covering President Adama Barrow and his government. It did not seem comfortable at all when it came to running a story about Barrow’s government corruption.
The opposition had an equally satisfying relationship with the private media, who tee up stories for them before and have never been disappointed. As seen in the last two years, the boy wonders investigative journalist of the century is considered the opposition’s most reliable mouthpiece. People wonder which journalist it could call upon to push out a campaign storyline they were then concocting. Those journalists are even more faithful stenographers. They can be emboldened, as loyalist PR assets needed any further encouragement.
Fatoumatta: Of course, they are biased against the government based on evidence and reporting. They never bothered to hide their feelings, in public, on social media, or in their articles, because they believe that all reporters are biased and readers are smart enough to know that the pretense of objectivity is itself dishonest. What makes a journalist honest is holding all sides to the same standard of criticism, no matter your views.
Some civic and citizen journalists are equally biased against Adama Barrow and have written several critical articles about him and described him in equally vulgar and unflattering terms. The only reason they have not written about Barrow more is that they had pitches about him turned down — including one about his non-commitment to fight corruption and institutional reforms.
Moreover, his lack of sophistication in higher education and corruption, they shopped around unsuccessfully because they believed (and still do) that Adama Barrow did not deserve a second term and was likely to be elected president. Like nothing in modern times, the 2021 election will expose the desperate need for political reform in this country. That presidential candidates of such low stature are all we have is an indictment of the system, not the poor voters stuck with such dismal choices.
Fatoumatta: We can do better. We owe it to this nation, and the least we can do is roll out our sleeves and do our jobs. The elections are around the corner, and we must make it our duty (because it is) to play ombudsman. We must not sing along or cut the rug with the head honchos, for that will be akin to taking sides and compromising a basic tenet of objective journalism: neutrality.