By Madi Jobarteh
Gambians, let us not confuse issues or ourselves to our own detriment! NIA is not a kind of institution that must be involved openly in the daily operations of state institutions even if that institution is the State House. Intelligence agencies are serious institutions and we must not degrade their dignity and integrity with such functions!
No one is saying that journalists should not be screened or that journalists should not be subjected to security checks to cover State House! How could anyone say such a darn thing! No one enters the State House, even as a staff without security checks!!!
So this issue is not about security or screening!
The issue is who is to do the screening! Let us not rationalize fundamental issues and oversimplify them! If we wish we can even justify that screening of journalists be done by Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital no matter how preposterous that sounds! I see others engage in false equivalence by claiming that even in the West journalists are screened! But by who, if I may ask?
In the West the CIA or FBI of the US or MI6 of UK or Mossad of Israel or CIGN of France, just to name a few, do not screen journalists covering their state house! So let’s not oversimplify and misconstrue issues here. Intelligence agencies do their work in the background and quietly! NIA is not a PR company!
The NIA is the topmost state intelligence outfit and they cannot be misused and abused into such simple things as screening journalists. That can only happen in North Korea or Saudi Arabia or Russia!!! We should not tread on that path. In the past we saw how Yahya Jammeh abused our institutions by arrogating to them functions that do not belong to them. Are we gonna bring back such bad practices again?
Let us insist that State House and it’s DPPR devise sensible, transparent and democratic means to make it open yet safe and secure for our journalists to cover the presidency. The need for journalists to cover the State House is a constitutional necessity found in Section 207 subsection 3. Hence we must not entertain any flimsy excuse or empty rationalization just to defend a practice that will only bring restrictions to journalists and abuse of the media by the State.
May we ask, what has happened since Independence by journalists covering State House that would warrant such an unprecedented decision? What is the value of such a decision in terms of enabling the media to cover the presidency for the benefit of strengthening our democracy and the good governance of the country? We do not need background checks on journalists to be conducted by the NIA when there are relevant and competent law enforcement institutions that usually do such functions.
Let us demand the Government and The DPPR in particular to consult widely and study this issue around the world about how such functions are done in other countries so as to devise a justifiable, reasonable and accountable means of empowering the media to cover the State House!
Let us not once again buy into general and meaningless narratives of the Government that will in the end undermine our freedom and democracy! This decision is unnecessary, high-handed and suppressive! It must be rejected.
Journalists have never posed any threat to The Gambia and to State House in particular which is not to say they could not do so in future. But we cannot imagine such a scenario today just to introduce practices that are unnecessary and threatening.
The DPPR Amie Bojang Sissokho and her team know almost all and every journalist in The Gambia! The State house has its security measures to check and track anyone who enters the premises. Why therefore target journalists alone for screening when Barrow would invite hundreds of other citizens to huge meetings at State House yet the NIA does not screen them before they enter State House.
Gambians, let us not harm ourselves once again! Let us not allow a government to scare us into accepting bad practices! Let us not accept a narrative based on misguided and dishonest concerns and false equivalence aimed at producing dangerous objectives and outcomes! Beware!
I, Madi Jobarteh hereby express my total, unreserved and complete rejection of any screening of journalists by the NIA in order to cover the State House!