By Alagi Yorro Jallow
By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of Gambian journalism and in our politics. This is no longer about policy, civility, decency or even temperament. This is a direct threat to violence, hate speech, platform for broadcasting of hate and incitement to violence, misinformation, and direct threat to individuals.
It is not just against the norms of Gambian politics and journalism, this raises a serious question of whether it is ethical practice of the craft. If any other citizen had raised about unethical journalism, would the Gambia Press Union be investigating?
To anyone who still pretends this type of journalism in The Gambia is normal journalism and politics, history is watching. And I suspect its verdict will be harsh. Many have tried to do a side-shuffle and issue statements saying they strongly disagree with those rhetoric but still support their political leaders. That is becoming woefully insufficient. The rhetoric is the unethical behavior and practice of journalism.
Professionals in every field of endeavor, by their training, are assumed to be capable of making judgements and applying acquired skills to arrive at informed decisions while dealing with their clients.
In journalism, dealing with a mass clientele that requires timely, and credible information to make socio-political and economic decisions, especially in a democracy, imposes a huge responsibility on practitioners to come across always, as dependable allies in the tasks of human development and nation-building.
Across many nations of the world, codes of ethics for journalists otherwise known as canons of journalism, share common principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability in news gathering and dissemination.
Any journalism practice therefore, in breach of these commonly shared principles cannot be said to be professional. While the internet has unleashed on the society, a floodgate of citizen journalists, whose excesses and unethical practices can be excused, the role of supposedly trained journalists in the propagation of falsehood, half-truths and deliberate misinformation, through the internet and other mainstream media, is alarming and demands urgent attention from all stakeholders.
In contemporary Gambia stories from rumor mills, and other concocted tales about individuals, public figures and groups make headlines in newspapers and on social media platforms, leaving the subjects thoroughly embarrassed. Such practices not only expose the biases and pecuniary interests of those involved, it also erodes public trust in the journalism profession. This is where we all come in. The unethical conducts of a few, call to question our collective integrity.
Sadly, those who engage in unethical journalism often hide under the cover of press freedom. However, freedom in this regard is not intended as a license to irresponsibility. Press freedom as a watchdog responsibility, is freedom to investigate and bring to public domain, incontrovertible facts about individuals or groups, whether they be economic or political, with a view to holding them accountable to the people they serve.
When journalists become attack dogs and agents of mischief in the hands of political opponents, the result is falsehood, misinformation and general unethical behaviors that are inimical to the peace and progress of society.
Certain politicians will undoubtably issue an explanation; some of their political party surrogates are already engaged in trying to gloss it over, but once the words are out there they cannot be taken back. That is what inciting violence means.
In The Gambia today, unethical journalism has become a source of worry for victims, ethical journalists and other stakeholders, who read daily, misleading headlines and outright lies, as stories in popular local newspapers and on social media.
Constant criticism and portrayal of public officials in bad light with vague and unsubstantiated evidences, clearly contradicts the submission of Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Tumbull that, “The most effective check and balance on government has been an independent press which maintains its credibility by ensuring that its criticism is balanced and based on fact – based indeed on solid journalistic work.”
Truth be told, there is hardly any public figure who does not want to be portrayed in good light. However, if through journalistic investigations, they are found to be enemies of society, there is absolutely nothing wrong in bringing such findings to the knowledge of the public, after due consideration of public good.
But if under the guise of journalism or press freedom, we resort to outright lies, half-truths and malicious media offerings, we would have earned public distrust not just for ourselves, but for every other journalist and media house doing the right thing.
It must be emphasised that no journalist or media house has the right to deliberately lie against any member of the society, whether private or public personality.
However, unnecessary and unabated media attacks on innocent members of the public by some of the local journalists, can create a tensed operational environment, through redress seeking by victims, using law enforcement agents.
While it is unacceptable for any journalist anywhere to be harassed, intimidated or arrested during carrying out his professional responsibilities, it is also not wisdom for journalism practitioners to deliberately malign public officials with false and concocted news stories against them and expect them never to seek redress.
The leadership of The Gambia Press Union, under the leadership of Bai Emily Touray, has over time, sermonised and mounted seminars/workshops on the importance of adhering to ethics. Therefore, fairness and objectivity in news reports should never be sacrificed on the altar of ownership influence. Now is the time to put a stop to unethical journalism in The Gambia and in the Diaspora Gambia.
As professional journalists, any material that cannot pass the test of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality and fairness to the individual, party or parties involved, is not worth according any space in the media, our personal opinions, religious or political inclinations notwithstanding.