Lamin Sabally- Minneapolis, Minnesota
Leaning heavily on recent local newspaper reports on the Gambia’s celebrations of the international media or press freedom day, hopes appear to be increasingly illuminating with the expressed initiation of a concrete dialogue process between the Gambia government and its strange bedfellow, the independent media practitioners in the Gambia. Among indicators illuminating that hope, was the presence, at the Tango venue of the Minister of Information, Communication and Infrastructure, who is also one of Gambia’s finest writers and distinguished associates of the Gambia Press Union, Nana Grey Johnson. His presence among diplomats, Media chiefs, leadership of the Gambia Press Union and Tango ( an umbrella organization of all NGOs), will probably go down in the country’s history as the first ever minister to attend and address the annual media day anniversary celebrations as succinctly reported by the Foroyaa Newspaper. This unprecedented initiative must be praised and embraced by the GPU as a welcome development by the Gambia government and by all indications, the physical presence and the conciliatory presentations by the honorable minister must be positively inferred to mean an opening of a new chapter in the difficulty relationship between the government and the independent media and this new positive approach must be nurtured and strengthened through the continuation of sustained rounds of positive dialogue between the two, whose relationship as encapsulated by the minister was construed to be a mixture of “ suspicion, paranoid and agenda”. This change of direction must be seen to mean the chronic bad blood between the government and the watchdog or the fourth estate will now change to begin to usher in the much-desired mutual trust, respect and constructive bond between the two.
At this stage, the GPU must passionately trust one of their astute partners and capitalized on all the unprecedented package of offer extended by Minister Nana Grey Johnson and push for more dialogue to bring about the desired changes the GPU had consistently advocated in promoting the ironclad constitutionally mandated press freedom in the Gambia. As a student of leadership during my graduate program, I have been constantly reminded that in dealing with conflict, one of the most dependable and sophisticated tools to be deployed with precision is the weapon of dialogue. This postulation has been unshakably supported by increasingly accumulated conclusive research findings. In pursuing continuing dialogue with the government, I am sure the GPU top echelons can always command the prevalence of decorum under the friendliest atmosphere. To that end, I would like to humbly implore them to stick to some important principles of dialogue generously enumerated by Kegan and Lahey which include the use of less inflammatory language with its substitution with the use of appropriate language in case if the discussions start to elicit the tendency to be tense; use of language of personal responsibility by deploying palatable and convincing negotiations, by which way, all unnecessary ranting and possible aggression on both sides can be completely surmounted. At this stage, I will deliberately eschew the pleasure of wallowing in the precise academics of conflict management and resolution specificities to prevent bogging down the readers with its complexities since this is not an academic paper.
Already, some common grounds have been concretely rejuvenated at the Tango press freedom day convergence during which the press has been sturdily recognized as not an enemy, but partner of government in nation building and development., that information for which the media is the specialized purveyor and transmitter is very important for human existence to spur a flourishing democracy and that free speech and expression is GOD –given right of any human being. Both the government and the GPU are obviously cognizant of these rights and what now needs to be trashed out include the mountain of hindrances to what the GPU considers to be lack of press freedom in the Gambia. The common ground amplifies that both need each other for the development of the Gambia and with mutual trust, these impediments can be overcame with rapidity if both sides uphold their trusted side of the bargain, including the provision of the right atmosphere by the government for the operation and functioning of a vibrant press and the resolute commitment to the ethics and ethos of professional journalism by the media members through appropriate training of its members to ensure unqualified professionalism.
Training is a never-overemphasized necessary requirement for the enhancement of the professional efficiency of personnel in any area of their specialization. However, when it comes to media practitioners, there seems to be an avalanche of misunderstanding of these professional pen pushers. Most people have the unalloyed belief that a journalist is someone who needs to be trained in the specialized field of the profession. This is a highly misplaced understanding of who really a journalist is. If one takes just a perfunctory look at news anchors, readers and reporters of major international media houses including the BBC, CNN, FOX for example, you will come to the rude and surprised realization that some of the big and idiolized names are groomed academically as international law experts, economists, political scientists and linguists because they acquired their degrees in these specialized areas.
With that observation, the Gambia can be reasonably proud to be on record for having some of the finest journalists both in the print and electronic media in terms of their quality of writings and broadcasting or reporting skills. With just minimal exposure to basic and rudimentary writing and broadcasting trainings, the country had progressively produced unquestionable prolific writers in the likes of Sheriff Bojang Sr, Cherno Baba Jallow, Musa Saidy Khan, Ebrima Sillah, Alie Badara Sowe, Pa Nderry M’bai, Yankuba Jabang, Fatou Jaw Manneh and many others. And in the area of broadcasting, you have the likes of Haddy Badjie, Fatou Camara, Haruna Drammeh, Lamin Ceesay, Malick Jones, and lots more. I sincerely apologize if I am being seen to be biased for not been able to list all the other finest writers and broadcasters for obvious lack of space and these few names given are just infinitesimal samples of the swamped list. I must personally recognize that some of these people have now either earned or in active pursuit of university degrees in various fields. But admittedly, at the time they freshly joined the media community, they have been sufficiently renowned at the national level to be excellent writers, editors, broadcasters and reporters. This is because the media houses that employed them routinely organized profoundly rewarding in-house training courses for them often under the professional tutelage of notable doyens and icons like Babucarr Gaye, Deyda Hydara, Pa Dixon Colley and AA Barry (all of blessed memory) Sam Sarr, Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, Bora Mboge, Aunty Jainaba Nyang, Peter Gomez, Ebrima Sanyang, Alieu Sanyang, Suwaibou Conateh, Pap Saine, Abdou Gassama, Aunty Sabel Badjan, Sereign Faye, Kenneth Y Best, Demba Jawo and may others. I have been always proud of most of these former colleagues in one of the noblest professions I was very much part of from 1998 until 2001 before I joined the IEC having worked at Citizen FM Radio and the government owned Gambia daily both as correspondent for State House and the National Assembly. The passion and dedication I have consistently observed of these colleagues have always been both phenomenally and monumentally impressive.
In my judgment, as a matter of urgency, the dialogue must kick-start right now and the first important issue that needs to be dealt with is the minister’s characterization of the relationship between the media and government as defied by “agenda, suspicion and paranoid” which must be brought to the discussion table for all misconceptions to be permanently erased. Equally, the disturbing perception of Mr. Gray Jonson that the independent media deliberately shuns “news of development” but is intentionally “concern with news that undermines the country’s international image and standing” must be exhaustively discussed for lucid clarity to prevail. The media, it must be emphasized, has crucial responsibility that it must laboriously shoulder including making government accountable by constructively criticizing its program and policy shortcomings and deficiencies. During this process, use of certain non-calibrated descriptions may elicit some harsh reactions from the government which has the propensity of heightening the level of apprehension a government may have for the independent press. In as much as the media productively criticizes the government, it must equally give undiluted recognitions and commendations devoid of truncation to the government by reporting on news of development as alluded to Minister Grey Johnson. By towing these fine and absolutely delicate thins lines, the private press will be seen to be very impartial and becomes more receptive to the government.
The recent upgrade of the GPU as training center for journalists who will be awarding Diplomas is a welcome development. This is an instance of fruitful collaboration between the University of the Gambia and the GPU and the elaborate publication it attracted on the media was highly impressive.
So please let the promising dialogue continue with the active involvement of unexhausted list of stakeholders in every process like Tango and Action Aid executives, GPU officials, Media Chiefs, Ministers of Communication, Justice and Interior and Council of elders and let the media adequately reports all recent updates on the progress of these repeated dialogues for the information of the citizenry both aboard and home.
The private media and government each other. By all strength of imagination, the kind of connection they have is symbiosis in nature requiring each of the two to be absolutely needing the other for their very survival and relevance.