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An Information Minister or Government Spokesperson is an official tasked with defending government actions and policies, distinctly different from historical figures such as Joseph Goebbels

Fatoumatta: An Information Minister or Government Spokesperson is an official tasked with defending government actions and policies, distinctly different from historical figures such as Joseph Goebbels.

Two years ago, and again this year, I cautioned that the role of a Ministry of Information is globally seen as obsolete. Information Minister Dr. Ismaila Ceesay has been prominent in the media, facing scrutiny for his defense of government actions and unpopular policies, drawing ire particularly from the opposition and critics. Defending a government that is waning in popularity and is focused on political survival to promote a third-term agenda is challenging. Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a kind, intelligent, and composed man, should have declined the role of Information Minister in favor of a position that would have better showcased his dignity and honor in serving his nation. Such a role could have allowed him to leverage his talents and potential to make significant impacts, whereas a less central role diminishes respect and dignity. While serving one’s country out of patriotism is laudable, it is crucial to discern between true service and being exploited as a mere instrument. Individuals ought to be acknowledged and respected for their contributions, not merely used as tools. The question remains, where is the official spokesperson for the Gambia Government?

Dating back to the 1970s, The Gambian Ministry was initially established as a Public Relations arm of the government. A restructuring to create a robust and strategic public communication system would greatly enhance the effectiveness of public communications in The Gambia. The traditional model of a stand-alone Ministry of Information is now considered obsolete globally, and it is time for The Gambia to adapt. The Ministry originated around 1970 when the Department of Information was promoted to ministry status, serving mainly as the government’s PR arm, focused solely on broadcasting messages without a mechanism for public feedback.

The role of the Ministry of Information, along with the Department of Information Services, is a critical issue that requires examination. In a democratic society, the need for a ministry that primarily serves as a state-sponsored propaganda tool should be challenged. The Ministry of Information, a holdover from the authoritarian regime of former President Yahya Jammeh and the corrupt PPP administration, ought to have been dissolved, along with the redundant Department of Information Services. After World War II, occupied Western European nations swiftly abolished Ministries of Propaganda, such as those established by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Party’s chief propagandist. Britain also dissolved its Ministry of Information, established for wartime, soon after the war concluded. The Netherlands has gone so far as to prohibit any institution resembling a Ministry of Information, with its Constitutional Courts ruling that such entities are beyond legal authority (ultra vires). Nevertheless, an active Information Department and Ministry continue to exist.

The term ‘Ministry of Information’ is a misnomer that continues due to poor communication. It should be avoided, as ideally, the dissemination of information should involve its provision, the reception of feedback, and the incorporation of that feedback into planning for the public.

It is disheartening to be labeled as President Barrow’s spin doctors, accused of attempting to sweeten the unpalatable; it is preposterous.

Dr. Ceesay: Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist, was a man of brilliance, volatility, and foresight. He made many predictions that proved to be prophetic. He once stated that he and his leader would be remembered as either the greatest statesmen or the greatest criminals; they were deemed the latter due to their defeat in the war. Goebbels also foresaw the downfall of his team: “Should the day come when we must depart, if we are ever forced to exit history’s stage, we will close the door with such force that the universe will tremble, and humanity will recoil in shock.”

Dr. Ceesay is not alone in receiving such prophetic warnings. Many have issued similar cautions, blending fact and fiction, truth and falsehood. This mixture is effective and will persist. Hitler advised, “Make the lie big, keep it simple, continue to repeat it, and eventually, they will believe it.” Indeed, the minor streams of falsehoods from years past have swelled into vast oceans. All is believed. Those who believe—and will continue to believe—the falsehoods are pervasive. It matters not if they are termed T.S. Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men’—those who revere “shape without form,” entities that stare at “shade without color.” When scholars become communication advisors or spin doctors to politicians, they often forsake their scholarly integrity; ultimately, political propaganda stems from corrupted thinking and typically seeks to make corrupt acts seem acceptable: ‘Political speech and action…’

As the Information Minister, defending specific government actions and policies poses significant challenges. Government decisions often require complex trade-offs, a balance of interests, and contemplation of long-term effects. Communicating these intricacies to the public is not straightforward, as citizens hold diverse opinions and come from varied backgrounds. What benefits one group may be detrimental to another, making it hard to find common ground. At times, governments must enact unpopular measures for the common good, and conveying these decisions effectively demands both skill and empathy.

Policies might need adjustments in response to changing circumstances, such as economic fluctuations, emergencies, or technological progress, and explaining these shifts can prove difficult.

The media significantly influences public opinion, and as spokespersons, it’s imperative to manage media scrutiny, combat misinformation, and counter sensationalism.

Certain policies may prompt ethical dilemmas, requiring a careful balance between public interest, individual rights, and ethical standards. Public perception is shaped by past decisions and historical contexts, and it’s crucial to acknowledge past errors while highlighting ongoing progress. Despite these hurdles, it is the duty of government spokespersons to ensure information is transparent, precise, and equitable, a vital aspect of sustaining public trust and promoting an informed society.

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