Human Rights News Opinion

Journalism is not activism: “A tiger doesn’t proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.”Activism and Political Bias Are Destroying People’s Faith in Journalism

Fatoumatta: The Gambian private media fought twenty-two years of former president Yahya Jammeh’s military turned civilian autocracy and suffered brutal persecutions, nocturnal arson attacks, torture, and death threats without compromising their reputation and professional integrity; those days, Gambian journalists under a despot played a heroic role in fighting for the truth in restoring democracy in the Gambia; at a time, many of the media outlets were proscribed, and many independent journalists languished in jails and tortured in the notorious NIA’ torture chambers Bambadinka’ filthy infested bedbugs, fleas, lice, and mosquitoes cells,’ and other journalists were killed amid attacks.

The cream of Gambian best journalists and others were forced into exile in the near annihilation of journalism, but politicians and activists never used them. 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 was 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.

Fatoumatta: I have practiced journalism in line with inherent truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, public accountability, ethics, and responsibilities. I do not blow my own trumpet, and a tiger does not stand in the forest and say: I am a tiger”. A tiger does not proclaim his tigeritude; he pounces, but I will today. I pride myself on being an actual and ethical journalist. I can say with all modesty that I have not erred, never betrayed, and rubbished the investments of professors and professors and mentors who taught me about journalism. I jive in pride and fulfillment. Over a couple of decades of my journalism career and training, I have not peddled fake news, maligned anyone’s character, gang-raped a subject, bullied people and blackmailed people politically or exposed persons, dishonestly took a bribe, and blindly joined the lynching mob. I was a reporter, young journalist, editor, publisher, journalism trainer, business and development communication expert, and adjunct lecturer who has spent the last 30 years living in journalism, and I arrived at this standpoint. No hold-barred expository on practical journalism practice has given me the needed validation of myself as an emeritus journalist. Everything has been the guiding principle of my training as a former journalist. I have a very independent mind. I do not go with the flow. I search and investigate things by myself. I do not engage in mass lynching. I am never afraid to be different. Anybody who knows me very well will tell you that about me’. I have been harangued, maligned, and threatened for my stance. I am one of the most persecuted Gambian Journalists during Yahya Jammeh’s rule. The records are there with Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) report have that historical records Amnesty International and other Rights Organizations have recorded such as the US State Department Human Rights Reports the last couple of decades to have the records. I am the only Gambian and first African to be awarded the Human Rights Watch’s most prestigious award, the Hellman/Hammet award, twice in 2000 and 2004 as the most courageous and persecuted writer. Moreover, the first Gambian to be awarded the International Press Freedom Award, yet I have never been cowed. Nothing gladdens the heart that is stubbornly holding on to your conviction. Never be a toy in the manipulative hands of others.

Fatoumatta: I think many Gambian journalists are confusing journalism with activism. I was a journalist, a professional journalist. I was never an activist. I was not just a journalist. I was a political and development journalist. I went to school to study journalism. I also hold a graduate degree in public Administration and Public policy and a degree in governance and leadership in development. Besides, I am currently in a prestigious Fulbright scholars fellowship program. I am the first Gambian, a Nieman fellow at the Harvard Foundation for Journalism class of 2007. I have taken leadership courses at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Yale University. I was a Mo Ibrahim Fellow in Governance for Development. I was a Reagan/Fascell Democracy fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and a fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Defense in Virginia. I did not go to this length to start writing about government, politicians, and people without evidence. I am not an adversarial journalist. I seek to build, not to destroy. I take no joy in pulling people down.’ Most people think being fearless is by running others down; hell no! Journalism builds capacity and improves individuals. Those who see journalism as a destructive tool are why we are in the doldrums. Like medical doctors, journalists cure society of its maladies. ‘I am very interested in constructively engaging with political authorities to help good birth governance and public policies. If you notice, when people say there is ‘casting down,’ I am saying there is ‘lifting.

When they say the Gambia should break up, I say there are other options to consider. When they say the Gambia is finished, let us try good leadership before giving up. Many people are irritated by these views, and that is their right. It is the path I have chosen in life. If you want to be an activist journalist, as some people love to call themselves, good luck to you, but please do not legislate for me. Continue along your path, and let me continue on my path.

Fatoumatta: There are unprincipled, overrated, vulgar fool so-called journalists who paid fringe to broadcast or publish a story that they are hired to defame and slander decent people of insidious bigotry. These buffoons are sponsored to spread conspiracy theories for a few Dalasi to destroy people and institutions. However, some of these quack journalists can be credibly on some paymasters of their godfathers “bankrolling” them. Being the avaricious moral cripples that some of the quack journalists are and immoral, illiterate toadies in politicians’ sponsorship, they cannot understand a little something called principled moral conscience.

These objectionably debauched jugheads so-called journalists cannot understand that there are decent people who have a sensitive moral conscience, actuated by higher ideals, which are not given to crass mercenariness, who are too conscious of their unconscious to avoid falling prey to the easy lures of instinctual, reactionary identity politics. Of course, some of them engage in what psychologists call projection: the subconscious psychological process that disposes people to attribute to others the unconscious negative traits and emotions that dwell in them. It is morally degenerate dissemblers who accept money from so-called activists and shoddy politicians or are disposed to take cash from crooked politicians to deodorize the politicians’ ethical stench—that accuse others of doing so without evidence. They are projecting their moral fragility, ethical rottenness, and lack of principles onto me. Moreover, it is interesting that politicians give people money to write or broadcast what they have been told and to write what their paymasters want them to broadcast or write. Multiple layers of projectile moral putrescence: demonstrably corrupt and bigoted activists and politicians instruct their maliciously ignorant and evil minions to pay degenerate hacks for hire to write that they have exposed their bigotry. They cannot hide that the masquerade has been unmasked.Fatoumatta: I have known many of my former colleagues in the profession and have never been hired by anyone to write for or against anyone. I never have in all my professional life. No one on earth is rich enough to buy my conscience, not because I am stupendously wealthy but because I am jealously protective of my independence. I am unpurchaseable. When I gaze at the issues, I make self-conscious efforts to ensure that my judgments are not mediated by the primordial, geographic, cultural, religious, etc., lenses that come to people naturally, but by my sense of what is accurate and fair. I have consistently been critical of every government in power since 19985. The records bear me witness. It is nothing more than the good old philosophy of holding people in power to account.Ideally, the role of today’s media is to serve several essential functions 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 also facilitates community building by helping people find common causes, identify civic groups, and work toward solutions to societal problems.

Fatoumatta: When a journalist does their job professionally with an open mind and an open heart ethically, that journalist is a real journalist. There is nothing more human than rational opinions and cognitive bias. So say, some journalists practice quack journalism and are dishonest and unethical.

However, the kind of civic Journalist the Gambia need as professional journalists is a single standard to get them past that: two first-hand sources — question everything and independently verifies. No one invented this — Journalists inherited it from people like legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow, and we will keep passing it on. Actual Journalists are not activists. They may share a passion for a particular cause, but their job is to follow the facts wherever they may lead. As activists might, they cannot ignore something that reflects poorly on a noble cause. 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 and how they perceive it are subjective, but the truth itself is not. Above all, actual journalists are not propagandists or political operatives. That is not their job.

Fatoumatta: We have profound respect for ethical and professional Journalists and what they stood for as journalists at their best. However, unfortunately, today, as a whole, Gambian Journalists genuinely are not at their best. Just ask average Gambians in town and 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. However, responsibility for this begins with them. It is a fact that the vast majority of journalists in this country are perceived as activists and politicians masquerading as actual journalists and leaning toward 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 would appear the same way if the media were tilted in the opposite direction. The one-sided nature of this fight disturbs the majority of Gambians. Is that what the constitution drafters had in mind when they wrote the ideals and principles of press freedom? We dismiss yellow journalism and media outlets for their political bias. Still, 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 repeatedly? With their credibility as low as it is today, it is a question worth asking.

Fatoumatta: No one owns ethical and professional journalists. No party, no organization, no corporation. They are complimentary because freedom lives in them. No one gives it to them or takes it away. Furthermore, they are most reliable when they stand together. So, to some journalists and foot soldiers of politicians who are to lose their humanity because of the money their political masters give them, let me tell you a real-life story about two decades ago. Then, perhaps, they can learn from it and retrace and not be a victim. Before the Newspaper Amendment Act was amended, many local newspapers were set 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 his political opponents. Nevertheless, the Information and Justice Ministers were unperturbed. They did not clamp down on the newspaper. On the contrary, they told the media managers to ignore the local paper’s editor since he survived on brown envelopes for a living and funding from press organizations. A few years down the line, this editor had a significant health challenge -kidney failure. Unfortunately for him, the politician funding him turned his back on him, as most politicians would do. They think they do not owe you anything again once they believe they have paid you for your hatchet job. So 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 at the hands of the newspaper, the politician flew this Editor to Senegal for a kidney transplant. When he returned from the treatment, he went to the politician’s house with his wife and other family members, prostrating to thank the politician and, at the same time, seeking his forgiveness for all the false and damaging stories his newspaper carried against him.

Fatoumatta: When politicians pay you to attack their opponents, do it with wisdom because you do not know where your help will 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 up your calls; neither would they reply to your messages. It is better to use one’s brain and wisdom to work for them. Otherwise, you may have unwittingly closed the door against your future helper. Not everyone would be like this politician l referred to in this story.”Quack journalist”:

Fatoumatta: GPU, if the estimate is that out of the 300 journalists in the Gambia, 240 are dodgy, how will you enforce any standards by basing it on accreditation. Moreover, I have to ask, what does accreditation involve? I know many journalists whom I respect and have much time for. However, unfortunately, I also know many who are supposedly accredited but are still dodgy. They cannot investigate and write stories on any subject better than some of your members. Some of my articles have been published, and many others even published without my permission – though, in fairness, they were attributed to me. However, some have never seen the inside of any journalism school or joined the GPU to benefit from training workshops, but they still make a perfect living.

Fatoumatta: While we are on accreditation, it will be good for you to say something about how Gambian journalism ended up in the Jaliba media zone. In print media and TV, the standards are seen, and the unprofessionalism the shallow engagement by the supposed luminaries of the media is mind-boggling. For example. How do you get to the stage where instead of facilitating an honest debate with your guests, you want to fight them and be opinionated? Supposedly, the fella is accredited.

Moreover, what if some of the TV anchors do not even know the subject matter, enough at least to constructively challenge guests who are talking bullshit and lying to us? When some of these folks are on air, you cannot find a sofa quick enough for you to hide behind in embarrassment. I think journalism should wake up and drag itself into the 21st Century. The doctrine of journalists as the curators of news was blown away by citizen journalism fueled by the internet.

However, unfortunately, it is the lost cause of music recording, and production giants started fighting when streaming services came on board. After all the huffing and puffing, they had to get in line with the internet. Hell, Apple and their iTunes services made some of these recording companies obsolete. Only those prepared to adapt survived but still operate in the digital world.

Fatoumatta: It will be great to get your thoughts on this. What are you going to do with unaccredited journalists? Most Gambian media workers do not intend to get accredited yet work as freelance journalists but continue as “citizen journalists,” spreading falsehood and acting as a propagandist for politicians. May God guide us right.

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