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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

An impact assessment on the state of journalism and news reporting in New Gambia

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By Dr Assan Jallow

“Newspapers are not made any longer by news or journalism. They are made by sheer weight of money expressed in free gift schemes. They serve not the interests of the many but the vested interests of the few.” – Oswald Mosley
The press is a fundamental pillar of democracy. It is known as the traditional communication channel where information regarding public policies is disseminated for public consumption for enlightenment, debate, and critique. The press is established to serve as the watchdog of the government, holding the government to account, and most importantly, criticizing excesses of the government in the management of finite resources.

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It is the fourth estate of government due to the crucial role it plays in the social-economic, democratic, and governance processes of national economies, in which The Gambia is no exception. According to UbuntuFM (2017), the raison d’etre’ behind this categorization is that the “press is to act as a counterbalance, a systematically opposite force that is to report, verify and question matters of governance, public matters as well as commercial ones, conducted by the powers, we the people, have entrusted it with and bestowed upon.”

That is the fundamental role the press must pursue to advance the course of fair, reliable, and balanced reporting based on facts and not influenced by the world of public opinions and perspectives of our political leaning to garner headlines with political motivations.
It is worthy to note that the Gambia Press (GPU) faces numerous daunting challenges as it has been one of the many institutions that had badly suffered the hands of dictatorship during the AFPRC government. The GPU has done a tremendous job over the years that is worthy of commendation for standing up against dictatorship, pursuing the protection and advancement of press freedom in The Gambia. However, the (GPU) has come off short over the years by failing to reprimand culprits where its code of ethics is/was being jeopardized by journalists who present conflicting stories that are politically motivated, thus defying the logics of balance and fair reporting in journalism. Misrepresentation of facts is a serious flaw that responsible journalism must not condone. It compromised and bastardized the press, which is unacceptable. It is a direct affront to democratic ideals behind the ethos of the press being identified as the “Four Estate” of government.

Discussion on news reporting (financial and health-related issues)
The importance of news reporting cannot be overemphasized. It keeps the citizenry aware and abreast of situations happenings within their surroundings and the world by extension. However, news reporting should be informed by gathering the facts right and being able to understand the information by working through the data-set if it contains statistical figures and analysis to arrive at a logical conclusion of how to present the facts and report accordingly per the obtained figures on the state of affairs or activities of that particular event. This is where investigative journalism with a sound understanding of statistics and economic trends comes in handy and be able to navigate through the lenses to contextualize the content of both the inner and outer layers of the information obtained or one is interacting with as a journalist. Errors should be caused by the originator of the source (s) than what you had compiled and presented for public consumption as a journalist or reporter.

The proliferation of opinion journalism where journalists provide their opinions that are sometimes highly biased and speculative, on specific issues rather than reporting the facts of the news has hijacked the media in the New Gambia.
Another significant threat of the media (press) is the fierce competition between media outlets on “who reports the news first” as if they are competing to win the coveted trophy of the World Cup in Soccer or Rugby. That pendulum swing is not the true purpose of journalism because “who reports the news first is immaterial?” What is more important is: (a) is how the news was reported and (b) is the reported news factual and not based on colorization of opinions? That feeling of arrogatedentitlement with the pitiful pride that “I have more viewers and followers than any media outlet has become the ‘New Kid in Town.” Though competing ideas that are no devoid of facts is healthy and a marketable tool that has the prospects of winning consumers from other outlets, however, it takes constant preparation and practice to have a competitive edge in the media world where knowledge and ideas have become the new resource to stay competitive with a competitive advantage against competitors.

Journalism in the New Gambia falls across three spectra. On the one end, we have the self-serving, special-interest media houses promoting a political agenda at the expense of the public. In contrast, the other end is the voice of dissent that is apolitical, impartial, and independently-minded, advocating for a strong media where credible journalism is not compromised. These types of journalists captivate the culture of critique through objective reasoning. Moreover, in the middle of the spectrum are those in the pendulum swing and whose positions are not known as they tend to play safe with politics through armchair journalism with the intent of appealing to the hearts and minds of the political elites rather than serving the public interest. To say that journalism can, to any significant extent, avoid politics and political influences is inconceivable. That is true without any shadow of doubt because journalism cannot be completely free from politics or the effects of politicization of the press. It interesting to note that politicization breeds polarization and a culture mistrust (i.e., doubting intentions) among the consumers. Furthermore, that journalism goes beyond self-serving standardsand only objectifies credible and accurate reporting of the news based on the facts and where objectivity takes precedence over everything.
Minding the tendencies of coloration in your news reporting to distort the facts has consequences that undermine your credibility, questions your sources; thus, losing trust and always inviting acts of doubts, questionability, and skepticism from the public. That is a disdain of cognitive dissonance on your profession.

Recommendations
1. The primary roles and responsibilities of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) are to support journalism training and development in the realm of capacity building to upscalejournalists’ skills, increase their knowledge, and in the different specialty areas of journalism in the Gambia. As expected, there is the need for a continuum on training and development and the GPU had the responsibility to ensurethat journalist and reporters or anyone doing journalism work (i.e., social commentators) is trained and understands the ABC of journalism before issuance of accreditation

2. That accredited journalists and social commentators should be willing to learn and explore the new frontiers of investigative journalism to uncover the truth on corruption, sex scandals, and misappropriation of public funds, nepotism and cronyism in the government’s public procurement system, etc. and avoid opinion journalism that handicapped their journalistic skills and render them intellectually bankrupt.

3. The GPU should effectively coordinate and manage the affairs of all the print media houses, broadcast, and online newspapers by ensuring that they adhere to the institution’s by-laws (i.e., its rules and regulations), thus enforcing strict penalty provisions and any violation goes with the effects of deregistration.

4. It is the responsibility of all media houses in The Gambia to ensure that their reporters are well-trained and understandsthe ABC of journalism; moreover that they comply with the ethics and procedural protocols of journalistic reporting based on best international best practices.

5. The GPU should collaborate with the Gambia Bureau of Statistics and the University of The Gambia to design and facilitate training programs on financial reporting. This is critical and will help journalists to understand and appreciate the statistics behind the generation and analysis of financial reports.

6. That journalists who bring disrepute to the profession by failing to act when it is the right thing to do should be reprimanded, accreditations suspended, and go for retraining or reorientation before issuance of reaccreditation.

7. Do not be paid to defend the indefensible by lying and portraying the characters of corrupt public officials and political elites you know it is a fiction built with the manipulative ploy of saving faces of disgrace on their gross incompetence and misconduct. As guardians of justice, exert honesty by engaging in truth-seeking adventures to unravelsthe truth in public policy issues and bring out their hidden skeletons of our elected and appointed public officials at bayand end the siege on the “Maslaha” culture in our socio-economic and political governance.

Conclusion
We all want the media to keep the government in check and should not be used as a string for political motivations to mislead the public with disinformation / misinformation. In journalism, reporting the facts matters and not concocted stories devoid of facts and influenced by the world of public opinions that are biased and more leaning to individuals’ biases and perspectives should be the anthem of journalists. That is because journalism is a craft and that journalists and social commentators must learn and master this craft well or risked being a quack and pseudo journalist or social commentator in the profession. Weaver (1994) notes that:
“Failure of ensuring credible and accurate reporting will make
the press ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that to mislead
the public.”
That is a sign of deleterious characteristics. Moreover, we do not want The Gambia’s press to be measured and mainstreamed with incompetence journalism and journalists with political motivations. We want a press that is respected, dignified, and propelled on the wings of justice, equity, fair, and balanced reporting. This is because we cannot afford to lower the bar of responsible journalism as it not a game of having quack and pseudo chess players of competing opinions. Journalism is a noble profession where facts are reported as they impact on public policies.

In conclusion, journalism training and development is critical and should be an ongoing process to keep the journalists ‘au fait’ of the dynamics of the profession that requires men and women who of impeccable characters who are guided by conscience to unravel the truth in the public space for debate and solutions. This will help in identifying the gaps through effective coordination and communications. Let justice guide our actions by sanctifying this critical vocation with truth, and nothing but the truth.

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