A lot has been said in the past few days about the accusations Pres. Adama Barrow levelled against some ‘unknown’ journalists. He claimed that they approached him and asked him to give them money so that they can write and say good things about him. Many analysts and commentators see this statement as worrying indeed and have raised concerns over its possible repercussions on the media and the free press.
Freedom of expression and of the media are the cornerstones of a democratic society. Indeed, it is safe to say that without a free press there is no democracy. It is equally true that without a free and vibrant press no country can progress. The media has therefore been referred to as the fourth estate in a democracy, and rightly so.
This is why this statement and recent events in the country have cast doubt on the president’s and the government’s readiness to tackle the issue of corruption and malfeasance. These two – corruption and malfeasance – are a cancer which can derail the progress of any nation and put its citizens on a path of want and extreme poverty.
I mean some journalists can be scrofulous like any other human being but then when they are found to have behaved unethically, the person they approached or showed that proclivity will then have a moral – if not legal – responsibility to hold them to account. In such a case, the person should report the illegal act to the authorities for necessary action. Thus, I contend that Pres. Barrow should name those journalists who did that heinous act.
In a case where he doesn’t (name these people) due to some sense of wishing to shield them from the wrath of the law, or the people, he would be compromising the relationship between the media and the masses. He would thus be participating in eroding the integrity of all journalists which will weaken the media, impacting negatively on their ability to hold government to account.
The possibility of this happening should propel the Gambia Press Union to look inwards and scrutinize their members and see if indeed some of them have behaved in an unseemly manner. It should prick the collective conscience of the media fraternity into trying to find ways of ensuring that they hold to account any among them who crosses the ethical line so as to safeguard their reputation. Perhaps they should review the way that they admit journalists into their fold.
This case, if left to go like that, will serve as a harbinger of bad times for not only the media but also the nation. As I always say, it is the media that stands between us (the citizenry) and abuse of power, corruption, malfeasance and total disregard of the rule of law. If we don’t have the media to check officials, then we are doomed.
The other thing that can have serious consequences on our development and democracy is the issue of the president realizing that someone is doing something wrong and then relieving him/her from office and not bringing out whatever the individual might have done. For instance, a few months ago, Pres. Barrow relieved Mai Ahmad Fatty, the erstwhile minister of the Interior but did not tell us why. A few weeks ago, an official from Statehouse said in one of the newspapers that if he (Fatty) does not keep quiet, they will spill the beans.
This innuendo suggests that Mr Mai Ahmad Fatty was guilty of doing something that was wrong, but they did not go into detail of what is was. Herein lies another action which can undermine accountability. Again, we were told that there was corruption at the Ministry of Agriculture as expired fertilizer was sold and officials there were accused of it. These included the minister in the accusation. Whether that was true or not we may never know because even the investigation that was said to have been conducted was never made public.
These actions are inimical to accountability and transparency. The president has to take the lead and show a culture of transparency so that the rest of the nation can follow. Sunshine, it is said, is the best detergent.