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Monday, September 21, 2020

The role of GRTS/media in the new Gambia

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As we all know television and media in general, in this day and age play a very important role in informing, educating and communicating with the people and as such are a very powerful tool. I want to believe that Babili Mansa understood this very well and used TV to the maximum in every sense to be able to control the narrative at every level. I also want to believe that the authorities of the new Gambia can capitalize on the potential of the TV to influence opinion for the better, shape perspectives for the better, entertain positively and educate us as they embark on the difficult task of governing. The new Gambia is faced with a myriad of challenges and I want to believe that the GRTS as a powerful communication medium is underutilised, at least for now.

Having said that I perfectly understand that GRTS is in the throes of a transformation, saddled with serious financial constraints, with a new top level management, who are yet to stamp their mark on the programme content of the TV, and  also yet to find their bearing. This is understood, but I want to humbly suggest that in the process, they should undertake what marketers refer to as product review and identify their star, cash cow programmes, as well as the dogs and problem children. In my humble view the programme entitled Kachaa is a star programme given its focus on socially interactive themes and issues. Thanks to Kachaa and Bakary Fatty the credentials of Jali Mbye as a great historian and great kora player was put to the fore. This has catapulted this humble Jali in to the limelight. The Nuuni neenla programme too could be rebranded to evolved in to a very interactive and opinion influencing programme in tackling social ills.

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What about the “Assignment?” This flagship weekend programme could evolve into a star programme to not only inform, but serve as platform for  key officials of the new GAMBIA to lay out their programme and engage with the  people. For example Honourable Ousainou Darboe – a human rights lawyer turned politician in my humble view is a great asset of the new GAMBIA. I have been monitoring his engagements since I was in high School just after the Kukoi led abortive coup, when the late Honourable Sheriff Mustapha Dibba was incarcerated and charged with treason. This erudite lawyer stood his ground and liberated Dibba – one of the main exponents of democracy and pluralism in The Gambia. Over the years he has been relentless and very consistent in exposing impunity not just in the second republic, but the first republic as well and the high point was the street protest he led to reclaim Solo death or alive.

Honourable  Ousainou  Darboe – the leader of the UDP and the Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs, International cooperation and Gambians abroad is now in the throes of politics and Gambians just landed him and his party a well deserved “political capital” in the recently concluded parliamentary elections. How he dispenses this capital with his dominant party will go a long way to consolidate democracy in the new Gambia. Of late he has been a subject of a great debate in certain circles, which is very much in line with the basic tenets of pluralism – understood  as “ genuine engagement of diversities within the bonds of civility”.. In return, my humble view is that he has to use the media such as the TV/ radio and even the print media to explain his vision and going concern of his party with a view to dispel misconceptions and set the records straight.

The recently issued press release by this gentleman was a step in the right direction in which he pointed out strongly that “we are a nation of one family, united by blood ties and love of our people.  Whatever village or town you live in, whatever work you do, which ever language you speak, whichever party you belong to, you are first and foremost the daughter of the son of the land, this beloved land of the Gambia, this home and abode of ours”. He went on exhort the parliamentarians of the UDP- the dominant party in parliament to “serve all Gambians”.  Well said and such statements should come often, to dispel misconceptions and set the records straight.

I concur with the fact that the Gambia is one big family. A case in the point is that the author is a Mandinka, but born and bred in Foni Bondali – the land of the Jolas where there is great ethnic diversity and tolerance from time immemorial. All my childhood friends were Jola and my father who passed away in 1972 was a great friend of the current chief Seyfo Mr Ebou Colley. If that is not enough, my grandfather – a renowned Jaliba – Abdoulie Suso was the first to compose a song in Jola “Balawo Musa Colly – ISabari”. My mother’s mother was a wollof called Chumbu Samba – daughter of a Hallam player!  What a colorful mix. This is the essence of The Gambia – The Smiling Coast of Africa. In later years when I was Director of Marketing GTA/GTBoard, (2005- 2012) I used to point out in my overseas marketing campaigns, that the Gambia is the Smiling Coast of Africa because we are at peace with each other, and there is unity in diversity and great religious tolerance, social cohesion and that Gambians are very open, hospitable and warm hearted. In the Smiling Coast we all tend to be related to one another.

These unique qualities attracted the first batch of tourists to our shores, and years have gone by but these unique attributes are still the bedrock of our tourism and the bulk of our visitors have thoroughly enjoyed their stay in the Smiling Coast. Invariably, it is not uncommon to hear “meet you soon” or “welcome back’ at hotel reception desks of our various hospitality outfits. This is further evidenced by the 52% huge repeater base and according to authoritative studies, a lion share of visitors have expressed their willingness to recommend this small gem of a destination to friends and relatives back home . Invariably it was said that tourism in the Smiling Coast was started by accident by one Swede named Bertil Harding way back in 1965, but according to another tourism expert, “this was an accident waiting to happen” given the myriad of positive credentials of the Smiling Coast.

Simply put, our legendary hospitality and kind heartedness buttressed by great degree of social cohesiveness constitute our unique selling point and “product plus” according to the Tourism Development Master plan Study. In my view, that story should be told in very clear terms, and the programme to tell that success story is the Expedition Gambia. This is a great programme that showcases the true credentials of Gambia tourism, and it is increasingly recognised that “tourism is an opportunity for people to do better”, and in my view the  Expedition Gambia should evolved in to a travel trade/ tourism/culture info programme  to better reflect the changing dynamics of tourism  and project our unique selling points.

Another programme that has yet to unleash its full potential is the weekend spectrum and I want to believe that this programme should be revisited and repositioned in terms of content and delivery. A once weekly current affairs programme of this magnitude should be very interactive and should make best use of expert opinion to inform, educate and enlighten people about key issues at both domestic and international levels. In the Gambia we have it all including celebrated artists, musicians – Jaliba Kuyateh comes to mind, fashion in media gurus – Ms  Conateh/ Ms Chilel Sarr comes to mind , historians – Hassoum Ceesay comes to mind, film makers – Mr Ebou Waggeh, Nana Offori Atta come to mind,  seasoned diplomats – Alhagie Momar Taal comes to mine, legal experts –the erudite  Henry Darlington Carrol comes to mind, economists – Mr Momodou Sabally comes to mind, bankers, political scientists, international law and international relations experts Mr Ebrima Badjie – former Gambian envoy to India/ Taiwan comes to mind, tourism experts – Adama Bah comes to mind, cultural experts – Bakary Sidibe/ Sheikh Omar Jallow come to mine, social development experts, human rights activists – Mr Musa Mbenga of DUGA  comes to mind, social workers,  private sector gurus – Mr Alieu Secka comes to mind, environmental experts, including climate change experts and Pateh Bubu Jallow comes to mind.

My question is why we are not using them to the maximum in our television and other media outlets to express their opinion on key and significant issues of the day? This is food for thought for the new authorities. I always admire the Senegalese for their love of country and creativity and they pay particular attention to the role of experts /intelligentsia in national development.  As such they always utilize expert opinion in their TV programmes. A case in point, the very day on December 9th when the ex president made a declaration in rejecting the election results, straightway the TFM  TV station went to work and invited a very articulate expert to give his opinion and perspective on the issues of the day and entertained question  and answers from the audience. In my view this made a lot of impact in shaping Senegalese public opinion, which is critical in a democracy and cognizant of this the Senegalese Foreign Minister straight away joined the fray to lay out the official Senegalese Government position on the issue, with the confidence that public opinion is on that side.

I rest my case.

Author: Lamin Saho

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