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GRTS still pro-government outlet enhancing propaganda

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“Despite the existence of numerous commercial radio stations, the coverage of the national news and current affairs has remained, during the twenty-two (22) years, the prerogative of the government broadcaster, the GRTS. Private broadcasters were obliged to relay integrally the pro-government news provided by the national broadcaster, GRTS which did not provide a platform for individuals to air their views or cover any event or news that could be critical of the state. Far from being a public service, GRTS was a mouthpiece of the Head of State.” This is what the TRRC states in its final report about the GRTS.

TRRC even added: “Most of its programmes were propaganda in favour of the then ruling President. Evidence has shown that even during elections, the opposition was not afforded free and equitable access.

One of the main rationales behind the setting up of the TRRC was to ensure human rights violations, misdeeds and wrongs, whether by individuals or collectively by state institutions, do not repeat themselves. Thus, the TRRC came up with recommendations and suggestions in its report to prevent the recurrence of the wrongs that it unveiled.

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However, there is little or no doubt that this object of the TRRC – preventing recurrence – has been largely smothered by a whole lot of state institutions. Most institutions haven’t changed. Their ways have not changed. Police abuse and brutality is still a menace that ordinary Gambians have to deal with every day.

Similarly, no one can deny the fact that the GRTS we know today is no different from the GRTS we knew during the Jammeh days. Its mode of operation has not changed. The contents it feeds the public have not changed. Just as it was a mouthpiece of Government and the Head of State, it also continues to be a mouthpiece of Government and the Head of State, attributing anything and everything to the so-called good and visionary efforts of government and its allies.

Whether it even continues to falsify facts as it did during the past regime – like the way it falsified fake apologies and thanks to then president Yaya Jammeh by Imam Baba Leigh, after the state kidnapping (arbitrary arrest) and maltreatment of the former – I do not know, but a lot of questions need to be answered as well.

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Even if listeners have the energy to watch GRTS a whole week (24/7), there wouldn’t be much that has anything critical of government or state officials. Since this government took over, a lot has taken place. A lot has happened and a lot is happening. We have seen protests, people complaining of government policies, corruption and the like, but rarely did people watch these being broadcasted by the GRTS.

All day and all night, it is hell-bent on Adama Barrow, the State House, government seminars and all whatnot. Where are the news, the reports, and documentaries about the fragile health system, the thousands of students denied education, about the corruption at the UTG, the greed of Gambian public officials and the exploitation of youths in The Gambia by Indians and Chinese companies? This is what we want to see – not government propaganda all day.

Also, we want to see the massive corruption in the private sector –  businessmen exploiting youths, foreign-owned enterprises hiring and firing Gambians for no just basis, businesses not abiding by Gambian laws and not adhering to safety laws. This is what we want to see, not the otherwise that they do.

This is not what it has been doing; it has been simply bent on trying to promote government, attributing even pleasant weather to President Adama Barrow’s visionary leadership and the so-called commitment of his team. In addition to that, it has been merely promoting the very businesses that it is supposed to keep accountable for their actions. Even Whats-On-Gambia has been doing a better job of keeping the government and the private sector accountable.

It cannot deny this bias and prejudice. A lot of the ordinary Gambians don’t simply have a medium through which to channel their frustration, but this is what they feel about GRTS. Everyone knows this bias; it is commonly known.

In some instances, GRTS has even been bias in its election reporting over the years. Ahead of the 2021 parliamentary elections, the civil society Gambia Participates documented instances of a political party “dominating the state-owned media outfit”.

I still remember when a memo was given to GRTS staff by the then Director General, Malick Jeng, ordering that there should be no reports connected to industrial action. I simply don’t know how others think.

So, without doubt, GRTS needs to change. It must shift from being the voice of government to being the voice of the people. That doesn’t mean government opposition, nor does it also mean government promotion. It means disseminating the real facts, as raw and hard-core and as controversial as they are, and engaging the common people.

It must stop shunning staunch critics and give them the platform to enunciate their frustrations. Without hesitation, it must also dissuade from boycotting Industrial action as once proclaimed by their one-time boss. We are not begging or trying to pamper them. We are ordering.

These very industrial actors are the ones paying them to do the work, not Adama Barrow or the Information Minister. GRTS must know this and truly understand what it means. It simply means you are working for us, not the government, and must, therefore, amplify our very voice. Ensuring the establishment of an “independent public service broadcaster and the transformation of the GRTS into a public service broadcaster” was what TRRC recommended in its bid to trigger the healing of the nation. Anything opposite would be adding salt to the injuries of the nation.

By Ali Jaw

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