My Gentle Reminder To the Gambia Media: On Ethical Issues, Tenacity, & Empathy Reporting on Ethnic & Religious Profiling

by Alagi Yorro Jallow.
Fatoumatta: As an emeritus journalist with a heavy heart, worry about the Gambian media, particularly the broadcast media and social media platforms, and a sense of impending doom, I am sending this gentle reminder this message to my colleagues in the press amid the December 4, 2021, presidential election.
Let me begin with a question, what exactly will we gain if the Gambia descends into war? How does it advance us if our fellow citizens turn on each other and begin large-scale ethnic killings against each other? Let me even assume that a few of us do not believe in the Gambia anymore and want to see it broken into its constituent parts. How does enabling ethnic strife help to achieve this objective in a way that guarantees the outcome you want?
For some time now, many of us have thrown away the book on ethical reporting, propelled by emotion, we have betrayed every moral consideration that assigns our noble profession a role so significant we are seen as the last hope of the ordinary person, so much, so our jobs are constitutionally protected.
Fatoumatta: Journalists use their profession to save the Gambia from impending catastrophe since the media can promote peace and cause civil unrest. For example, the Rwanda genocide, which resulted in the death of over a million people, was triggered off by two local radio stations in that country. Unfortunately, in recent times, all we witness in the nation’s media are misleading headlines, exposing the country to grave danger if not checked. However, media practitioners should ethically use the profession to enhance the bond of unity and the country’s overall development.
Evidence has shown that In Rwanda, an agenda was set for the Hutu audience of Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), emphasizing that all Tutsis were a threat to all Hutus on a long-term basis; that the only way to protect the Hutu was to destroy the Tutsi; that as Hutu leaders deemed the threat to be immediate and local, you as a Hutu should join the collective effort in exterminating the Tutsi. Thus, the Rwanda genocide was a cascading series of actions deriving from the representation of the Tutsi as the enemy.
Despite numerous examples that exist which have proved, including not too long ago in Rwanda, that the conduct of the media can help in promoting, starting, and perpetuating violence and ethnic strife, we have turned a deaf ear to pleas not to become a tool that enables hate. Nevertheless, we have failed to heed these warnings. Instead, we have given platforms to the worst among us, the extremists and the bloodthirsty. We have turned militia leaders and criminals into champions. Instead of leading a calm and rational discussion on the existential challenges we face to promote actionable solutions, we have succumbed to hysteria and the following exciting clickbait headline.
However, this place called the Gambia has been relatively good for many, especially media owners. Gambia’s media, mainly the vernacular, national broadcasting F.M. radio stations and social media network channels, particularly on those social media streaming and WhatsApp network and other platforms on Facebook, are mild versions of the now-defunct Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). In addition, two Rwandan journalists have been sentenced to life in prison and a third to 35 years for their roles in fuelling the Rwandan 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were murdered.
Left unchecked, the continued propagation of negative ethnicity and exclusionary ideology by vernacular F.M. stations could ignite the country some time. Radio can directly incite and set an agenda for hate and acceptance of or involvement in violence against “the other.”
Moreover, the sad thing is that such inflammatory broadcasting happens in the full glare of the Communications Authority of the Gambia partly because PURA has no spine to move against and bring the law to bear on wayward owners vernacular F.M. platforms.
Fatoumatta: This country has given many of us more opportunities than the majority of our fellow citizens. We have reaped a bountiful harvest from this place. We have done so well that, if God forbid, this country is consumed. Chaos reigns, many of us will hop on a plane and bugger off to the many different countries abroad where our families live in peace, even though they are not native to those places.
We will run off and leave our foot soldiers, our reporters, and headline writers, whom we allowed maybe even encouraged to go down this path to navigate a country at war, alone and perhaps without the ability to fully protect their families both immediate and extended from the horrors that will follow.
Moreover, there is no doubt it will not be delightful. , the playbook is written and tested. We recently saw it in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
There will be killings in the thousands, and limbs will be chopped off with machetes, women, and girls will be raped, food will be scarce, fear will reign. The most brutal among us will take charge. Furthermore, their word will be law. They will not tolerate journalists who try to hold them accountable.
Moreover, these horrors will not always come from the bogeyman we have been at great pains to create and project. Instead, it will come from the militia leaders fighting to take control of our neighborhoods and increasingly scarce resources. This is not a film script. This is the reality of war.
Fatoumatta: Our job is to hold power accountable, and it is precisely what it should be. The focus on those in charge, especially the President and political leaders, should be relentless, loud, and insistent. However, when the killings happen, and they seem to have already begun, it is not the President’s family, nor that of his Ministers, nor indeed anyone with any severe influence that will mostly die. It is regular folks, people already forced to travel and move to eke out a living, settlers, across all of the Gambia.
The ignoble role we are now playing in bringing this country to chaos is at odds with most of our history. However, we have always been the ones Gambians could rely on to lift our voices together to better this country.
Our proud history of fighting colonialist masters carried on with the fight against military dictatorship, to standing up to civilian governments that tried to perpetuate themselves in office.
I do not know when we decided that focusing on ethnic profiling would be a good idea despite the repeated warnings about where this leads.
So here we are today, about to be consumed by the hate we have stoked.
They will write about us, just as they wrote about our colleagues in Rwanda that we fanned the flames of ethnic hate and enabled them to consume our country.
They will write about us first-person because we live in a digital age. The internet never forgets, and records last forever. So they will identify us individually, and sooner or later, a few of us will end up before an international court.
Fatoumatta: What we do today and what will count is whether we had the courage associated with our profession to buck the trend, jump off the bandwagon and do what is right instead of getting swept away by the moment, forgetting ourselves the ethics that should guide us all.
In the end, we all die, but while we live, we write our legacy. It is not too late to make it one that saved our country from the brink.

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