by Alagi Yorro Jallow
The Gambian private media fought twenty-two years of military turned civilian autocracy and suffered brutal persecutions, nocturnal arson attacks, torture, and death threats; they played a heroic role in restoring democracy in the Gambia; at a time, many of the media outlets were proscribed, and many journalists languished in jails and tortured in the notorious NIA’ Bambadinka’ filthy infested bedbugs, fleas, lice, and mosquitoes cells,’ and other journalists also killed others on forced exiled.
Those who are now in the private media, benefiting from the sacrifices and fruits of the struggle, courtesy of Chinua Achebe “those whose palm-kernel were cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble,” must continue to solidify and consolidate the gains, as well as the successes of the struggle of those emeritus editors, journalists, and publishers also reminiscing of the excellent old days of ethical and professional journalism.
Ideally, the role of today’s media is to serve several essential roles in a democratic society. Their primary purpose is to inform the public, providing citizens with the information needed to make thoughtful decisions about leadership and policy. The media is expected to act as watchdogs checking government actions. They are to set the agenda for public discussion of issues and provide a forum for political expression. The private media is also to facilitate community building by helping people to find common causes, identify civic groups, and work toward solutions to societal problems.
When a journalist does his or her job professional with an open mind, an open heart ethically, that Journalist is a real journalist. There is nothing more human than opinions and bias. To say, journalists have none dishonest. However, what they do have as professional journalists is a single standard to get them past that: two first-hand sources — question everything and independently verify. No one did not invent this — Journalists inherited it from people like Edward R. Murrow, and we will keep passing it on.
Journalists are not activists. They may share the passion for a particular cause, but their job is to follow the facts wherever they may lead. They cannot ignore something that reflects poorly on a noble cause, as an activist might. They have to care about the means as much as the end because they must search for the whole truth.
Nor are journalists like lawyers in a court of law, cherry-picking facts to prove their case. Fortunately, there is only one truth. How they feel about it, how they perceive it, those things are subjective, but the truth itself is not. Above all, they are not propagandists or political operatives. That is not their job.
We have profound respect for ethical and professional Journalists and for what they stood for as journalists at their best. Today, as a whole, Gambian Journalists genuinely are not at their best. Just ask average Gambians in town villages across this country, as they do. Everywhere people go, people tell them they have lost faith in journalism. It comes from all people, all walks of life, and all political stripes. Frankly, they do not blame them. Responsibility for this begins with them.
It is a fact that the vast majority of journalists in this country are perceived as activists and leaning to certain opposition political parties. The Press Union and Journalism training schools they come from are similarly dominated by one political ideology. This matters today because the reporting has become so one-sided. As they try to figure out why people have lost faith in their profession, let us start by being honest about who they are. It appears that the same way if the media were tilted in the opposite direction. It is the one-sided nature of this fight that disturbs the majority of Gambians. Is that what the drafters of the constitution had in mind when they wrote the ideals and principles of freedom of the press?
We dismiss yellow journalism and media outlets for their political bias, but we do not hold liberal media outlets to the same standard. Many journalists who claim to be objective have publicly taken a political stand, saying the urgency of the time justifies a departure from journalistic standards. However, they ask citizens to believe their reporting is still unbiased? Is it a mistake when media outlets keep beating the same drum over and over? With their credibility as low as it is today, it is a question worth asking.
No one owns ethical and professional journalists. No party, no organization, no corporation. They are free because freedom lives in them. No one gives it to them or takes it away. Furthermore, they are most reliable when they stand together.
To some journalists and foot soldiers of politicians who are to lose their humanity just because of the money your political masters give you, let me tell you a real-life story that happened about two decades ago. Perhaps, you can learn from it and retrace and not be a victim.
Before the Newspaper Amendment Act, there were many local newspapers, many sets up for the journalists by some politicians. You know all these four or twelve-page newspapers printed in bond papers. One particular newspaper (name withheld), funded by an opposition politician, was vitriolic and patently malevolent against all political opponents. Nevertheless, then Information and Justice Ministers were unperturbed. They did not clamp down on the newspaper. They told the media managers to ignore the Editor of the local paper.
A few years down the line, it happened that this Editor had a significant health challenge -kidney failure. Unfortunately for him, the politician funding him turned his back at him, as most politicians are would do. Once they believe they had paid you for your hatchet job, they think that they do not owe you anything again. His politician financier abandoned this Editor.
The politician who was under constant attack by the Journalist got to know about the predicament of the Journalist. Despite all the attacks he suffered in the hands of the newspaper, the politician flew this Editor to Senegal for a kidney transplant. When he came back from the treatment, he came to the politician’s house with his wife and other members of his family, prostrating, to thank the politician and, at the same time, seeking his forgiveness for all the false and negative stories his newspaper carried against him.
When politicians pay you to be attacking their opponents, do it with wisdom because you do not know from where your help would come tomorrow. Do not make enemies because of politicians. Because you made some little money from them, you bought a Toyota car and little change in the bank, and you are ready to go to any length to smear your financier’s opponents. If you have a severe medical issue tomorrow that requires millions of Dalasi, they will stop picking your calls; neither would they reply to your messages. It is better to use one’s brain and use wisdom in working for them. Otherwise, you may have unwittingly closed the door against your future helper because not everyone would be like this politician l referred to in this story. May God guide us right.
by Alagi Yorro Jallow