By Alagie Saidy Barrow
When I was a student at the US Department of Information School (commonly called DINFOS), one of the tests I had to retake was because of two mistakes I made on a news article I wrote. One of the mistakes was that I spelled the name of someone wrongly. The person spelled their name MICH-E-AL and I spelt it MICH-A-EL. I was deducted 25 points for this one mistake. I also didn’t capitalise the S in “soldiers” when referring to soldiers of the US Military per the Captioning Style Guide. Two minor mistakes and I had to repeat the test! I would go on to graduate and supervise the work of the various journalists in my unit. Suffice to say I checked and verified everything that came out of our unit.
In school, I had the opportunity to retake a test; in real life, once the information is out there, you don’t usually get a second chance! And wrong information has ignited conflict in various parts of the world. The American-Spanish war came about because of misinformation. The Qatar crisis started because statements were ascribed to the Qatari leader that he “never” made. If you follow US politics, you’ll see how media lies about “stolen” elections led to the death of an individual when the US Capitol came under siege. In Burundi, Nigeria and Mali, yellow journalism has contributed to deepening the crises and in some instances, acts as a catalyst for conflict. To avoid creating misinformation, all it requires is a simple verification of the information before you.
I’ve stated before that information is often the very first casualty of any dictatorship, or impending dictatorship, and that one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of any dictator is information. Given what journalists underwent in the hands of the Jammeh government, given how so many journalists still live with the scars of that dictatorship, given how Yahya used GRTS, The Gambia Embassy in DC, the NIA, and the Daily Observer to spread disinformation about Gambians, you’d be forgiven for thinking we appreciate the value of information. We should be aware that various interest groups would want to use our platforms to spread lies about their opponents. Even foreign nations with vested interest in our country can use disinformation to get a desired effect.
It behooves everyone of us to therefore not only be aware of the various actors in play, but to be discerning of what information we put out in the public space! Accuracy, timing, appropriateness are all key to any information that one should ponder on prior to disseminating information! Cardinal to any information is accuracy! That’s why I was deducted 25 points for misspelling one name. The information you put out must be accurate on all fronts! Check, verify, check again and verify again. Have someone check and verify! You would not want to be the one whose misinformation leads to conflict in our poor little Gambia. Our people are suffering enough!
Alagie Saidy-Barrow was the former lead investigator at The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliations and Reparations Commission.