Fatoumatta: I will speak off the cuff. Also, I will say this to you. No amount of image laundering will save the face of the journalism profession in two neighboring countries, the Gambia and Senegal. I say this to my friends and relative journalists, and I will say this to a broader audience without flinching. The media are at the heart of democratic life. In contexts such as ours, where tension is maintained on governance and politics, the role of the press becomes more crucial despite the recurrent threats to the activity of journalists. These are traditionally the work of the powers that be, which adapt poorly to a free and independent press and, therefore, too intrusive in the search for and dissemination of information of general interest. That said, it is not only governments that threaten the press and the powers of money; citizens, primarily through social networks, compete with independent journalists to distort news and information, manipulate propaganda, defame, and disseminate fake news in the name of their interests. These dangers, which beset the press everywhere, cannot spare the Sene-Gambian private and public media, which are caught in the crossfire and some of which have lost the fight against the new aggressors of the time. Under our skies, politician politics, pointless because stripped of the imperative to serve citizens, also affects the press between spurious accusations, physical and economic threats, and verbal aggressions.
It must also be recognized that the crisis is affecting the Sene-gambian press through the quality of the work provided, the precariousness suffered, and the fact that a part of this press no longer cares about accurate and truthful information but serves as a launching pad for the ambitions of politicians.
Among them are people who do not hide it and, for years, have put their media, their reputation, their honor, and their personality at the service of a man’s political ascent. They are the sounding board of their anti-republican project, violent and seditious with leaflets, well versed in fake news, lies, and all excesses, and in the service of the ideology of civil war advocated by the leader of the parties.
However, in a democracy, a journalist can give his opinion and write independent editorials. To call the government, the opposition, and civil society groups accountable and transparent does seem to be the right attitude in perfect journalism. We should not easily anathematize people because we do not share their views. It is to borrow the faults of some journalists and columnists to lie, smear, and insult citizens because of their opinions. It is to resort to the fascistic methods of a media that pushes intolerance to the point of attacking opponents. Most of the Journalists on the payroll of politicians and their sponsors in their undertaking have decided to discredit or even dehumanize anyone who would be opposed to its orientation. Let us leave them on this sinister path that leads only to a dead end.
Being a professional journalist requires us not to give in to the sirens of intolerance that lead to violence. On the other hand, journalists in the neighboring countries nowadays challenge our conscience. The first relates to the request for the press not to participate in amplifying hate speech and the debate through its channels, and most journalists are more explicit and complicit. So, how could we admit that journalist conveys their elements of language through us to make the public accept their contradiction? Isn’t it the duty of journalists to give a voice to all sensitivities within the framework of a democratic debate? In the name of what, would those who broadcast or publish an opinion expressing an opinion on a politician, because most journalists are the owners of the airwaves and columns, want to censor any contrary opinion? In a democracy, it is open to citizens to say that they are against any citizen or politician. This same right can be exercised by those who support a politician. However, The role of the press is to guarantee the audibility of each idea and to allow the expression of all sensitivities.
The Gambia and Senegal have a tradition of a solid, accessible, and independent press, with journalists of quality and great virtue who have contributed, alongside the trade unions and other social forces, to the tremendous democratic conquests. The press has weakened despite media liberalization and plurality. However, for our democracy to finally reach a final level of maturity, the press must make its aggiornamento and conform to democratic and republican standards that call for more responsibility and height, quality, and professionalism.
Fatoumatta: It is this strong press that will play its role as arbiter of the elegance of Senegambian democracy, which, like all others in open societies, is going through turmoil. A divided press, trailing behind social networks, between clans and coteries, and where the cult of disorder and organized disinformation reigns, in addition to its economic fragility, inevitably contributes to the savagery of society and the end of democracy.
The journalism profession in both the Gambia and Senegal, as we know it, is dead and buried. This profession has been killed by media owners who run media houses like businesses, putting profits first and human interest last. In the Digital age, it has all the hateful media outlets in its ranks, [particularly the radio leading the line. Severally has the public raised concerns with the ethnic vitriol being run on radio stations, and not at any one time has the Gambia Press Union, PURA, or whoever is responsible for cracking down on inciting content on our airwaves ever outspokenly called bullshit for what it is and pulled the plug on divisive content in there.
Broadcasting and print journalism are clinically dead. Everything from the government these days is broken to us by social media. Some government departments, like, for example, the Gambian Ministry of Justice, rely too much on Twitter for most of their public communication, which has become the de-facto government medium. Government officials should respect state institutions like the public broadcaster, the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), and the Senegalese national broadcaster, the RTS. However, Public broadcasters are expected to be impartial, objective, and independent in their reporting and to provide a diverse range of programming that reflects the interests and needs of the public.
Public broadcasters are also expected to promote democratic values, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and transparency in government. They are often seen as a vital component of a healthy democracy, giving citizens access to information for making informed decisions about their lives and communities.
In summary, public broadcasters or state-owned media play an essential role in providing information and entertainment to the public while also serving as a watchdog for the government. They are expected to be impartial, objective, and independent in their reporting and to promote democratic values such as freedom of speech and transparency in government.
The function of public broadcasting has eroded all those gains, technically killing off the profession of journalism, where every dry-joked comedian and husky-voiced cat-walker now has a microphone to their names. Walk along the streets of Banjul and Dakar right now. Carry a straw poll on the respectability of journalists in the public eye. Your results will be grim reading, and it will not shock anyone in this country.
Fatoumatta: I am reading Anthropology. I knew how to observe the ethics of my profession, and whenever I fell short, I got called out. I do not take offense, and it is part of my professional career growth. Naturally, as a political animal every man is, I have my political biases. I unapologetically do not support any candidate. If this country was mine, and I got to call the shots, I would have long issued a decree to make the guava Senegambia’s national fruit and the woodpecker our national bird. Those are my prejudices, and I wear them like a badge of honor.
However, whenever I get to discharge my professional assignments, I get to leave all those biases at home and conduct myself in line with the code of conduct my profession demands of me. I do not discuss politics where I work as a matter of principle. The average Gambian voter has a fragile heart that can easily collapse while discussing heated political topics.
Not too long ago, a virtual friend weighed my mind on the difficult circumstances facing this country. I told him I would rather discuss the latest mating patterns in bees than fall into his glaring trap of ethnic bigotry.
Fatoumatta: I am not one to start a fire, so I expect no one to bring any to my doorstep. Journalists in this country have openly taken ethno-political sides on matters of national importance. The old saying rings true: ‘Doctors bury their mistakes. Lawyers jail theirs. However, journalists publish theirs for all the world to see. You could count on your one finger on the Senegambian journalists who do not pander to ethnic bigotry in their discharge of professional duty. I have one principle in life that I live by When you make your bed, you must be prepared to lie in it.