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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Pap Saine (Managing Director, The Point Newspaper )

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From 1981 to 1983, he wrote for the Senegambia Sun; from 1984 to 1991, he wrote for the Gambia Daily and from 1989 to 1991 he wrote for the Topic magazine. He also wrote for France Football magazine from 1985 to 2002. From 1985 to 2002, he was among the voters of the African Footballer of the Year Award.


Pap Saine was the first Gambian journalist to cover the African cup of Nation and the World Cup. From 1998 to 2004, he served as president of the Gambia Sports Journalists. He also served as a member of the press committee of the Confederation of African football (CAF) from 1988 to 2002. From 1997 to 2002, he served as a member of sports Intelligence unit based in Denmark. In 2000 Mr Saine was appointed press officer of CAF [Nigeria Ghana Nations Cup]. Mr Saine bagged two international awards in press freedom. In 2010, he won the World Press Freedom Hero award by the International Press Institute based in Australia and 2014. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Sainey Darboe started off by asking him how he started on his long road in journalism.

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Pap Saine: Well I started my career in 1970 at Radio Syd. At first with Radio Gambia, I used to listen to news with Joseph Gabbidon, Ransford Guy Thomas, Sarah Goddard, Joy Coker, Brigit Gomez and others. They really inspired me that time to listen to the radio and to be keen and interested about the job. Also at that time, it was very rare to listen to BBC, VOA, Radio France or Senegal Inter. I was fortunate to join the wagon through the former and late director of Radio Gambia, Badou Lowe, who was a good friend to my dad. He told me that since I was interested in broadcasting why not he tried for me to join Radio Syd which was the first private radio station in Africa. With his support and recommendation, I went for testing and I was fortunate to make it out of over a hundred people at that time. Few of us – about twenty – were selected and I was fortunate to be among them. My ambition was really to be a journalist and I started with the electronic media.  After my high school level my mission was to do mass communication and I was fortunate to do training with Ghana News Agency at the School of Journalism of Ghana in 1969 and the Senegalese School of Journalism. In 1971, I had an opportunity through a friend of mine who was head of radio and television, Gibril Ba from Kolda, who helped me to join a course of six months. I was fortunate that time to be fluent in both English, French and Spanish as a third language. So I thank God I speak more than one official language.

My father was brought up in Gunjur. My father was a marabout who used to travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and DR Congo. Here they were calling him Matarr Jinni because that time he was curing many people who were sick or those people who were insane. My father was brought up in Gunjur and from there God accorded him magical powers. From Gunjur he came to Banjul at 42 Gloucester Street opposite the Independence Drive Mosque. He used to travel a lot and I used to travel with him. He inspired and encouraged me to be bilingual because given he is a marabout, during my school vacation, we used to go to Congo and Cote d’Ivoire. Those were Francophone countries so sometimes it was difficult for him to get an interpreter.

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Why didn’t you learn his magical powers?

Maybe I inherited something from him but I don’t do it as a profession because what I was asking God when I was young was to make me a journalist and God made me a journalist. I worked for both print and electronic media for many years. Up to now, I have not ceased my relationship with the electronic media because when Radio Gambia or West Coast Radio commentate international matches, they invite me to give them the background history of The Gambia. For sports I used to be the press officer for the national team and also a member of the press committee of Caf. I have covered 16 African Cup of Nations and three World Cups. So I am au fait with football and even music, I helped a lot of Senegalese musicians.


You have been described as a ‘walking encyclopedia of Gambian sports’ for your ability to remember records. Tell me how you do that?

Well, I thank God for that because it is God’s gift. Up to now I am still trying and I can even tell you the history of World Cup and the African Cup with records. I used to travel with the national team because from 1975 to 1994, I was the press officer of Gambia Football Association. 


What precisely did your work entail when you joined Radio Syd in 1970?

Well, by that time I had only the musical programme but by 1976 I started with Reuters then 1980 for the Senegambia Sun. I did both print and electronic media.


The University of The Gambia has announced plans to start a school of journalism as of next semester. How would this help Gambian journalists and journalism?

First of all, I would like to commend Gambian journalists for their great work. Despite the fact that we don’t have a school of journalism we have talented Gambian journalists who are very promising like you, Sainey Darboe, and Hatab Fadera of Daily Observer. I admire you when you write stories and I say ‘these young chaps have a bright future in the print media’. Despite the fact that we don’t have a school of journalism, we don’t have anything to envy other African countries because we have good training in the local media houses. I am really, very happy to see these young journalists in the terrain. It is a very good thing for the government to set up a school of journalism which is very long overdue. I think we should commend the government for that because it is a plus for Gambian journalism. When somebody does good you must appreciate what he/she does. Many Gambian journalists have been trained locally but I thank God for inspiring many people to join the journalism field like Fatou Jahumpa, Aziz Williams, Fatou Jobe and the lady doing advertising for Gamcel Yaay Ministerie. These and many other youngsters whom I inspired are either into journalism or advertising. So I am really very happy to see all these people join the media because of me.


What do you identify as the biggest challenges facing Gambian journalists and what is the way forward?

The problem here in The Gambia is that it is difficult to manage newspapers. People don’t pay for adverts up front. Printing materials are very expensive and we wish and pray to have more readership. Although it has increased, we wish it will increase a lot more. We are facing challenges because all the major papers are online which has affected our business. But despite all that, we will do everything possible to do what we owe to our public. I appeal to our advertisers to pay newspapers upfront so that it can facilitate their work. Indeed it is not fair Mr Darboe that you do service for somebody and it takes three to six months before you get your money. It is only in The Gambia that people don’t pay upfront and this has tremendously affected our business. I am appealing to government to help us have free access to information which is very necessary because many times we want to cross-check certain stories but it is very difficult. The government should appoint a spokesperson and also a director of press. This will help the free flow of information. We are partners in development with the government. There may be some instances of misunderstanding but we are not enemies. The government and the media are condemned to live together because we are partners in development. We should not be seeing each other as enemies because in any partnership you have misunderstanding but that does not mean we are opposed to government. We want to support some government policies but we don’t have access to information. Sometimes when you approach public relations officers or government officials, they dodge you. They say ‘I am not aware’ running away from their responsibilities. They are not fair to us. If we report, they say we are not fair or accurate and they are the ones who pushed us to that. The spokespersons of all the institutions should take their responsibilities and do their job correctly. That’s why I said the government should appoint a spokesperson or director of press and whenever there is a big occasion all the media should be invited.


How about the oppressive media laws?

Well, the media laws are here and since they are here we should be very careful and know how to cope with them. The only thing we can do is to appeal to government to abolish these draconian laws. In any country you have laws that guide human beings and the repeal of draconian media laws does not mean journalists will do everything to tarnish the image of the government or anybody. The courts are here for libel. People sue when they are not happy with what is written about them. The government should have a lenient policy with journalists. We   should sit down and iron out our differences to forge partnerships. But the journalists should also be responsible. We should always be objective and have the two sides of the story. We are not here to praise only the government or only the opposition. We should do balanced reporting as requested by the constitution, promote divergent views. What I hate is for newspapers to promote character assassination. We should promote and pray for the continued peace of The Gambia. We should promote democracy, divergent views and peace among all peoples of The Gambia.


You started The Point with the late Deyda Hydara and Babucarr Gaye. Could you recall how it all began?

The Point started in 1991. The three of us sat down and said there was no tabloid newspaper here and agreed we should fill the gap even though at the time we were working in the electronic media. We were encouraged by our childhood friends some of whom said to us whenever you go outside The Gambia you see newspaper, it is only in The Gambia you don’t see newspapers. Before 1991 you will see A4 papers with news typed on them like letters without pictures or anything and people were buying these papers. We decided things should change and started a tabloid paper. In 1983 during the time of the Senegambia Confederation we had a paper called the Senegambia Sun which was sponsored by the Senegalese daily Le Soleil. It lasted a year-and-a-half when the confederation collapsed. Six months after we started, the Daily Observer came and now we have four dailies in The Gambia and the competition is very keen. Every day I wake up I read the papers of all my competitors. I have good relations with the heads of all the media houses because I told them we are in the same boat and should support each other. The competition is there but I thank God for the competition because competition is good.


After 23 years of operations what is the state of The Point?

Well, we are trying as I said. I told you earlier that all the papers are facing difficulties because people don’t pay upfront and we should pay our staff and bills. If advertisers were paying upfront there would be no need to have any doubts. That is a constraint not only for The Point but for all the papers. I know that because I have been in this field for many years. We are doing our best to come out everyday and do our service for the nation.


Since the killing of Deyda Hydara, the general perception is that The Point is dying. Do you agree and why?

Say again…What did you say?


Many say The Point has lost its point as a critical paper?

Aaah no…no, no. Scared how? As I said we are not scared. Whatever story we have which fits the nation, we publish it. Despite all the criticisms we are earning lots of awards. Let me tell you that since the death of Deyda Hydara, The Point has won lots of international awards from Germany, Vienna in Austria and Zambia, South Africa. Aaah! I think that is a plus to us.


But some of your staff left due to unpaid salaries?

Not paying salaries? No, that is not true! We still continue paying salaries .Many people started with The Point. Many people traveled because of The Point. It is not because of financial crisis those people left. But everybody has financial crisis whether The Point, The Standard or other companies. But thank God we are surviving and doing everything possible to make sure the paper continues to survive.


Your colleague Deyda Hydara was killed in brutal fashion on the eve of your anniversary. What is your recollection of that fateful day?

It was a very sad day because he was my childhood friend. We used to do everything together.  It was God’s desire that he was killed. I am sorry …


Any last words?

What I would say is that all journalists must come together and support each other. We should be committed and dedicated to our work. We should all work for the betterment of our careers because with professionalism and objectivity we can be highly respected.


With Sainey Darboe


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