Role of the public media – GRTS and Gambia Daily newspaper

To appreciate the power of the media one needs to look at dictators and their regimes first, and nowhere to better start than in Germany under that brutal and immoral tyrant Hitler. He created the Ministry of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels from 1933 to 1945. Mr Goebbels’ control of the German public media was aimed at defending and entrenching the Hitler dictatorship based on the policy that, “a lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

Fast forward to 1994 to 2016. When you juxtapose the public media policies of Hitler with those of Yaya Jammeh, one would see direct similarities in the way the APRC utilised GRTS under various director-generals to perpetuate the APRC Lies. In light of the forgoing, it is necessary that we remind the new DG Ebrima Sillah about these issues so that he would lead our public media to become a true platform for freedom and democracy and not a propaganda machinery that it used to be. In this regard, one would advice that the new management under Sillah do an assessment of GRTS to ensure that its editorial and programming policies are indeed geared towards creating a new Gambia of democracy and development.

In the first place, GRTS as well as Gambia Daily newspaper are public media outlets whose role has been well defined under Section 208 of the Constitution.
“All state owned newspapers, journals, radio and television shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinion.”
This is a constitutional obligation that the past management and staffs of GRTS and Gambia Daily have for long flouted with impunity as they refused to provide space for all Gambians to express divergent and dissenting opinion. Hence the new management and staffs of GRTS as well as Gambia Daily from now on must insist on fulfilling this constitutional duty even if it means resigning or going to prison. GRTS and Gambia Daily newspaper henceforth must not become propaganda machinery for any government.

We know Ebrima Sillah as a seasoned journalist who knows the rules and ethics of the profession and a dedicated citizen in the fight for democracy in The Gambia. Under his leadership, we therefore look forward to a public media that truly will be he pride of the nation. Needless to say, GRTS and Gambia Daily do not belong to the Barrow Administration just as they never belonged to the Jawara and Jammeh administrations. These are public media institutions that belong to the Gambia and those who work in the public media must always remember that. Again, let us recall Goebbels when he said, “Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.” It is true that during the APRC tyranny many folks who work at GRTS indeed thought they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately.

In this regard, we expect GRTS to realise that it has a duty to promote the Gambia Agenda. This means GRTS must be a platform where all Gambian languages and cultures must have equal space to be promoted. We expect GRTS to be a tool where it will help promote Gambian musicians, movies and other performing artists. Furthermore, we expect GRTS to create a platform where Gambians would engage to discuss pertinent national issues – social, economic and political. Thus we do not expect GRTS to be partisan or politicised but to remain professional, efficient and deliver quality programs.

In being professional and efficient, GRTS must stop addressing public servants with such meaningless titles as ‘His or Her Excellency or Honourable’ in its newscasts. Such fanciful titles are for diplomats and politicians, and not for professional media organisations and journalists to use. During First Republic, Radio Gambia championed such titles as ‘His Excellency Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’. In the Second Republic, GRTS trumpeted the title, ‘His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh, Babili Mansa’. If in this new dispensation GRTS continues to say ‘His Excellency Adama Barrow’ then we would not have seen the change we decided on December 1.

It is important for GRTS Management to realise that the public media is the voice of the Gambia, which must take the Gambia to the world and bring the world to The Gambia. GRTS must be a tool for the promotion of education and sports in this country. Thus its programming must be inclusive and broad as to address the various needs and concerns of all Gambians. Instead of bombarding Gambians with foreign soap operas and music, GRTS must endeavour rather to produce Gambian soap operas and movies just as BBC does in the UK. It is only in African television, one would see so much foreign content. But when one watches BBC or CFI or DW, hardly do you see foreign content. If they show foreign content it is directly linked to national interests.

I hope my good friend, brother and colleague Ebrima Sillah would find time to understudy major public media outlets such as BBC to learn lessons and ideas as to how to build GRTS into a robust public media institution. This should not be a challenge given that Sillah had once worked for the BBC. Thus I would remind Ebrima that he faces a fundamental question, which is what contribution and legacy will he deliver and leave at GRTS and for the Gambia. Is he going to be another Malick Jones or is he going to be like those directors of the BBC who ensured the full independence and professionalism of the BBC. Certainly he must realise that he will not be at GRTS forever and Gambians will one day judge his tenure. He has a choice to make that judgment positive or negative.

I would like to remind him of one thing though that Hitler’s propaganda chief Goebbels once said,
“There will come a day, when all the lies will collapse under their own weight, and truth will again triumph.”
Ebrima is a living witness of this truth for no one including Ebrima himself ever imagined that he would one day become the head of the chief propaganda machinery of Yaya Jammeh. But Yaya Jammeh has collapsed and GRTS has been redeemed. The task now is how do we ensure that GRTS does not ever become a tool for the perpetuation of sycophancy, patronage and tyranny in our country. That responsibility lies on the shoulders of Ebrima Sillah and his staffs. I know he can fulfill it because he has shown to be a man of integrity, imbued with patriotism and professionalism.

I can assure Ebrima that so long as he treads on the constitutional path set out for GRTS in Section 208, I am prepared to lay down my life to defend the independence and professionalism of the public media. But so long as he wishes to become another Joseph Goebbels or Malick Jones, then we shall rain fire and hailstones on his head.
God Bless The Gambia.

Madi Jobarteh is a programme manager at Tango. The prolific Gambian commentator once worked as a journalist at Radio Gambia.

By Madi Jobarteh

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