Have you heard?

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With Aisha Jallow

Ah, the satisfying feeling to be the first to share the news! It doesn’t matter if it is gossip or based on facts, it is something you have heard and it gives you an itching in your bones until you have shared it with at least one person. You leave what you held in your hands and rush out to see if you can find someone who is willing to listen to you. You long to see the look in your audience’s eyes when it changes from disbelief to excitement or even rage. You can change someone’s life with only some words, and it feels so exciting, doesn’t it? You feel the rush inside until you suddenly realize that the reaction you were searching for wasn’t the expected, it caused turmoil and grew from a small spark into a wildfire.

Your words are like water spilled on the ground; you can never take them back. Just a little water shouldn’t harm anyone, you might think, but for those of you who have tried to put out a fire caused by burning oil know that the water is causing even worse damage. This kind of fire can only be put out by smothering it with a lid, but where is the lid for your words? In the sick pallor of reflection, you suddenly realize that the afterthought is too late. You should have thought before you shared your story, no matter how exciting you felt it was.

Speaking about fire; let us speak about the burning of the police station in Bakau a while ago. A man was accused of killing another man, he was taken by the police and set in custody. Some youth, hot-headed young men, thought the killer was arrested at the Bakau police station. They went there to try to convince the police officers to release the killer so the hot-heads could take care of him. The Gambia can be a bit upside down sometimes, but we still have got laws people are supposed to follow. The killer was not in custody in Bakau, for his own security, and even if he would have been there, the police officers would not have allowed the mob taking the law in their own hands.

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Words had spread that the killer was in a cell at the Bakau police station, and nothing and no one could convince the angry mob that he wasn’t there. The crowd was larger than the number of police officers, and the situation got out of hand. Police officers were injured and the police station was burned down. Is this justice? Do we live in the jungle where there are no other laws than the law of the strongest? I understand that those who went to the police station in Bakau were upset, but the step from a thought to action should not be taken in a haste. Whenever you hear something that is giving you a strong reaction; stop and think before you act.

Those of you who follow my writing know that I love to share proverbs and quotations. I would love to share this with you:

”Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”

This was said by a man called Bernard Meltzer. He was an American and held a radio show called ”What’s your problem”.

People could call the radio show and ask for advice in matters of the heart, about economy and whatever that bothered them. Mr Meltzer took their issues seriously, listened thoroughly and tried to advise people the best he could. There are several quotations by Mr Meltzer as he was considered a wise and insightful man.

”Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” Those of you who are familiar with the Holy Bible perhaps know this verse from Psalms 141:3

”Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Keep watch over the door of my lips! How many times do we ask for that door to be shut when we have found ourselves loose lipped? The mouth is faster than the brain sometimes, and we might have a reason to regret what we said.

It is so easy to talk and talk, especially if you find yourself in a context where people chat about this and that. You don’t want to be considered as uptight so you decide to share some information. You hope that people will find you interesting so why not add some more details to the story to make it even more interesting? You notice the excited looks and the nodding heads. You raise your voice a bit so more people will hear what you are telling. Let’s say that you were attending a religious function. You have listened to the sermon and prayed together. Afterwards you sit together and chat, your mind is at ease and the door to your mouth is open. You are not on your guard anymore, you are just enjoying some time with your friends so what harm can that do?

Consider this second verse from the Holy Bible. It is from James 1:26.

”Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues decieve themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

A harsh lesson to learn, isn’t it, but still so true. No matter which religion we belong to, the message in these words is wise and is asking us to choose our words wisely. We love to think of ourselves as more or less pious, but in this case it is both our actions as well as our words that count. Religious rituals are not enough if they don’t go into our hearts and allow the words of God to enter.

We will look into another matter that concerns The Gambia and that is about Foñi and the Senegalese soldiers stationed there. Rumours said that these soldiers had shot three Gambians and people became furious. They were asking for the removal of these forces. Different versions of the story were spread, and even National Assembly members began to speak about the matter.

When we come to a very serious matter like this, the media will also get involved and now we really must speak about taking responsibility. All journalists worth their salt want to be the first with the scoop. Instinctively they jump into the matter and begin to share it as soon as they have had some information.

The sharing of the news about Foñi and some Senegalese soldiers was shared too fast and not built on facts. Source criticism is crucial, especially for professionals who can do a lot of harm with their words. Journalists must always do their homework first, before they share any news. Their so- called scoop could be spell disaster if it goes too far. It was not any Gambians who were shot by Senegalese soldiers. It was some Senegalese who had taken refuge in The Gambia. They had crossed the border to go and water their cannabis plants in Senegal. As the Senegalese Government has declared war on that trade, these men were shot and killed inside Senegal.

Sad news, but based on the truth and not on rumours.