Fatu Camara, CEO, The Fatu Network

Fatu Camara, CEO, The Fatu Network

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In this edition of Bantaba, The Standard managing editor, Sheriff Bojang, talks to the CEO of The Fatu Network about the state of the media, Election 2021 and related matters.

You are the marmite lady of The Gambia media, people love you as they loathe you. Why do you divide opinion as you do?

Such divided feelings do come with the territory.  As you report news, those it doesn’t put in good light will not be happy about you while on the other hand, those it benefit, like what you do. The Gambia is a small country, all you have to do is offend only one person and watch them create loads of enemies for you by spreading all kinds of fake news about you. This is because of our close relationships and proximity. Everyone loves journalists until they report news that they don’t like.  So I am not bothered because I am only guided by my conscience and I do believe that people have a right to feel anyhow they want about anybody. That is their right. For a journalist to be always endorsed by everyone means something is definitely not right about his or her work.

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Apart from a few years spent with the youth service corpers, you have always been involved with the media in one way or the other. What is your general assessment of the state of the media in the country?

I am very excited about the current state of our media. We now finally have a free press with journalists even venturing into investigative journalism and getting answers from authorities. I know it is hard sometimes getting those answers, but at least we are getting there. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement but the signs are already very encouraging compared to when loads of journalists fled to live in exile.

But analysts have expressed worry about the growing partisanship in the media that came to the fore during the recent electioneering, what are your views?

Partisanship is very common in the media.  In fact most media around the world are created around ideological leanings. Those leanings end up pushing them into camps.  Fox News, CNN, MSNBC in the United States are examples of those leanings and camps. True impartiality in media is a fallacy in that regard – the agenda is hard to cast aside I guess.  The goal in the end though should always be to do justice to the story and to avoid being on one side consistently.

Take your own outfit for example, The Fatu Network, at a point in time you were seen as pro-Barrow, then anti-Barrow and of recent pro-Barrow and anti-UDP with the party’s supporters even subjecting you to cancel culture and boycotting your channels. 

You seem to be suggesting flip-flopping on our part.  The fact is, parties want journalists to become their mouthpieces, and so when our stories seem to favour one side, the other cries foul and accusations of bias start flying, until your stories seem to be in their favour. I am sure The Standard newspaper can relate to this. What this tells you is that we are consistent Maybe it is the party supporters who keep fluctuating depending on our stories. The fact that they cannot determine our stance is clear evidence that we are non-partisan.

The shock jock comedian Baba Jah appeared on your platform and said things about the UDP leader that incensed his party supporters and despite pressure you refused to bring down the interview, why? 

Freedom of the media is sacrosanct. I take my profession very seriously. We must never succumb to such pressures and bullying tactics, especially when it’s in regards to things said that can simply be challenged to set the record straight by people vying for public office. For us, anything that in our determination falls in the category of public interest is newsworthy. We are well aware of the fact that those determinations can sometimes be controversial.

 Critics do not only lambaste you personally, they accuse your editor, Lamin Njie, of being patently engaging in propaganda for NPP and consistently asked you to sack him. Are you totally happy with his work?

Lamin Njie is one of the most professional journalists in this country. He takes his role of editor very seriously. He has my full support and confidence. We deal with issues internally when the need arises.

If that is the case, why did you recently bring two editors from Sierra to come and work at The Fatu Network?

The Fatu Network is expanding immensely and our goal to meet the challenges of such expansion demands bringing in more professionals. Lamin is working very well with the team and I am very excited about what’s on the horizon.  We are working on hiring even more people.

At a point in time, Omar Wally was the face of The Fatu Network, no one sees him there now. Did he jump or was he pushed?

Omar was a big part of team and we were saddened by his decision to take a break. Our doors will always be open to him.

You have told me several times that the UDP will likely lose the recent election. I frankly thought whoever wins would be somehow fifty-fiftied into office. My mouth has been a gape at the margin of Barrow’s victory and I still can’t close it. Did you foresee this and what in your estimation accounts for the scale of the UDP defeat?

It was obvious for everyone to see especially if you are non-partisan the direction that the party was heading. Politics of intimation and insults will never work for anyone especially after over 22 years of Gambians being subjected to dictatorship. Anything that reminds Gambians of control will never be welcome by the majority. I have said well before the election that UDP will lose and that will be caused be less than a hundred people. You cannot expect people to vote for you and you keep fighting with them daily. When I said this to a few people including you, you all thought I was angry because of their boycott of The Fatu Network. Well, that boycott worked against them more than it affected us because our followers increased and we had a 52% revenue increase online. The Fatu Network has passed a stage where it can be silenced by any group. Alhamdulilah!  I think the other issue with the UDP is admittedly they are big on the social media but a thorough analysis would show that mostly they were preaching to the choir or preaching to the converted. They were not adding people, they were mostly talking among themselves unlike the NPP which engaged even platforms that were regarded as hostile or opposed to them.

I know you talk to Barrow and sometimes see him. If you see him again or talk to him and he asks for your advice, what will you tell him with regard what he needs to focus on in his new mandate?

Yes we met a few times and I appreciate his humility each time we meet. My advice to him is to be the president of every Gambian irrespective of who voted for him, to hire professionals who can do the job and to be there for Gambians because Gambians have really been there for him.

We are in an election cycle and the parliamentary polls will be held in the next few months. The UDP holds the majority in the current legislature, what are your predictions about the shape of the parliament that will emerge after the April polls?

I can tell you in April President Barrow’s NPP will sweep the polls again just like he won the December 4th presidential election. I said this because five years is a long time and looking at the current trend, it tells you that the transfer window is already open.

You are on first name terms, I guess, friends with the first ladies of The Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Tell us how you cultivated these relationships?

I guess it has to do with my job and my relationship with the First Lady of Sierra Leone who has been a friend for over 20 years.

How does your relations with these ladies affect your coverage of their husband presidents and their governments? Sometimes it looks like you are engaged in PR works for them.

I do not write the news at The Fatu Network and I do not interfere with the content. I do PR work and whenever this is needed I announce that it is PR work.

Your views buck the trend on LGBTQ issues. You have been singled out as a defender of so-called gay rights, and even actively helped some members of the community escape Jammeh’s clutches. What is your motivation?

I believe in human rights, I do not think anyone should be victimised based on their sexuality.

You are mother to three great boys and you have been involved in scandals galore, how does the baggage of those scandals affect them?

That comes with being Fatu Camara but what is more important is that my children know who I am. As a family we do not owe anybody any explanation. I have sisters from the same parents who many have never heard about If it wasn’t for the fame like you said, nobody would have heard about me. Being famous comes with a price and my children know that.

You announced some time ago that you were engaged but no one has heard anything about it since. Were you in fact engaged or you wanted your many male admirers off your back?

That was a distraction tactic (laughs out loud). If you remember that was when a fake photo of me was making the rounds on social media. As a PR person I had to get the people off that topic and shift them to a new one. I’m glad it worked (laughs).

The Fatu Network held its maiden Heroes Award in March 2020 and since then nothing, probably because of Covid-19, are plans afoot to hold another edition?

Yes there was no award last year because of the pandemic but plans are already underway for next year’s event.