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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Journalists deserve more respect!

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The exchanges between the government spokesman Ebrima Sankareh and reporters notably Omar Wally at the so-called “Major Press Conference” at the Sir Dawda Jawara International Conference Centre last Thursday demonstrated clearly that certain spokespersons and public relations offices do not even understand the basics of their job.

Perhaps as a remedial measure, what the government of The Gambia should do is send all their spokespersons and public relations officers to The Gambia Armed Forces public relations office to learn or relearn what effective public relations and spokespersonship all about. Ask any journalist in The Gambia and you will be told Major Lamin K Sanyang is the quintessential spokesman and public relations officer.

Respect they say is not freely given; it is earned. Major Lamin K Sanyang earned the respect of Gambian journalists because he is almost always available; promptly returns calls; sees and treats the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate as his professional colleagues and is never bellicose or condescending towards them; answers questions and responds to queries to the best of his ability… We can go on and on. It’s nothing personal for him. He has been given a job by the military to be accountable to the public. He speaks and writes with clarity when giving out information and does not lace every sentence with idiotic bombast and never asks any reporter to “worship” him!  This is what we expect from spokespersons and public relations officers, especially those in public office.

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Spokespersons or public relations officers and journalists in particular seem to have been pitted in a lasting “faa ding yaa” rivalry.  Of course, it is the job of PR professionals to represent their clients in the most positive manner possible. While the two positions are popularly characterised as dysfunctional, sometimes adversarial relationship, the truth is that we need each other. Without reporters, PR would not be able to do their job of spreading awareness of their clients’ activities. Without PR pros, reporters would be less in tune with the internal news and buzz of the beat they cover. Rather than think of the two as “a broken marriage,” a better description would be that they are two sides of the same coin – roles that are distinct, but cannot exist without each other.

Political scientists say equitable, factual media is one of the most significant markers of a democratic society, and journalists as well as public servants should do everything in their power to uphold this ideal. If we are thinking about a more democratic media system in The Gambia that upholds truth and reflects reality in the fullest capacity, then government spokesmen and public relations officers need to respect honest journalism and honest journalists.

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