The TRRC must be free, transparent and
inclusive – journalists are no threats
With the broadening scale of how unfair the media has been treated so far after being perceived largely as a threat to the commission in providing media coverage goes to clearly indicate how far we are retarding in being conscious of the work of the media as a country.
Since the proceedings of the much-awaited, eagerly-anticipated TRRC commenced I have sincerely observed huge changes in the attitudes of some individuals who used to be so media friendly to the extent that they want journalists to cover anything news or non-news worthy in connection to the work of the commission. Indeed, they were so nice and humble.
So why the sudden changes?
From the onset, the media was cognisant of the crucial role it shoulders in the effectiveness of the country’s transitional justice programmes especially the TRRC. It was further aware and sensitive in its coverages and ability to convince the public in promoting reconciliation and healing.
We all know proceedings of a commission is different from that of the courts and its proceedings are made public as we saw in South Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone to name a few. The success and prestige of these commissions especially the South African commission can be largely attributed to the extensive media coverage and attention especially with regard to transparency.
So what does this Gambian commission wish to gain with the introduction of unfriendly, biased, unscrupulous and so-called media regulations? Is it a propaganda to control the inflow of crucial information the Gambian public deserve to know?
Why are journalists being restricted from taking live recordings and even exempted from shooting mere pictures? Why ban the use of all electronic gadgets including mobile phones and more surprisingly the use of laptops by journalists during proceedings?
Why all these frivolous and irrelevant measures when the TVs are allowed to shoot live proceedings? It makes no sense.
Witnesses who appear to testify normally go through a process of whether they want to be heard in camera or in public. If a witness decides to testify in public, why would you want to stop a journalist from recording? Ridiculous!
What does the commission wish to gain here with these many so-called ‘administrative obstacles’ and bureaucracy?
This commission is working to respond to the needs of Gambians and not its members or staff, it must, therefore, not be characterised by a lack of openness and muzzling of press men and women. It is my opinion that the seeming and apparent muzzling of the media is both reckless and dangerous.
The Gambian public relies on the media to get first hand info of the proceedings and therefore they must have unrestricted access to whatever is happening at the TRRC.
How can they make a fair judgement if the forerunners expected to provide them with all relevant information are facing difficulties in accessing what they are obliged to relay to the public with high sensitivity?
Why stopping journalists from the print and radio from recording or taking mere pictures if you are okay with their presence during the hearings, besides the uninterrupted camera coverage provided by others?
A senior official of the commission was quoted as saying five months ago that “the nation’s broadcaster should have a nationwide coverage to feature proceedings of the commission when it starts to ensure all Gambians are aware of the events that will be unfolding around it.”
Journalists are responsible, conflict-sensitive and wary of the etiquettes that made up their profession. The commission and its members or staff may be masters or even intellects in their respective fields of study, but they have lesser clue or even no clear idea at all of how journalism and journalists work. You cannot dictate to a journalist what information he/she should or should not relay for public consumption. It is therefore befitting in this context to remind these people, who seem to be overplaying their cards that ‘only a mother knows how to carry her one-leg baby.’
Indeed, journalism is a serious work. Serious profession. We are a responsible lot with highly capable editors as ‘gate-keepers.’ We know full well what to shun in news writing or what to scribble to promote reconciliation, however, we will not devour in promoting independent critical journalism. Stop manipulating the media now!
I cannot do justice to this piece without reminding the TRRC that to struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer and as a journalist, as are calls for freedom of the press.
I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.
Mariama Kunda, WCR