The high-voltage acid tone of current discussions is no handiwork of the media
By Famara Fofana
There is no gainsaying that the Gambian media has seen it all in in the recent past. Not only were disappearances of journalists, closure and arson attackson media houses, but some paid the ultimate price.
There were also well-documented instances in the pastwhen leaders of the opposition parties were covered by state media at non-political functions only for theirmessages to be filtered or not aired at all. That was censorship at its best and that state control of public media is yet to nipped in the bud.
But even in the face of growing media pluralism in our country these days, there still remains some teething gaps that need plugging. With a proliferation of both traditional and digital media platforms, the quality of reportage offered by the news media continues to be tested against the basics of ethical standards including the much-storied seven canons of journalism: 1) Responsibility 2) Freedom of the Press 3) Independence 4) Sincerity, Truthfulness, and Accuracy 5) Impartiality 6) Fair Play 7) Decency
In truth, capacity gaps on the part of Gambian journalists, sensationalism and ethical blunders are still rife despite the existence of the Media Academy for Journalism and Communications (MAJaC) and UTG’s School of Journalism and Digital Media. Matter of fact, issues pertaining to ethical at the end of the day go beyond professional training. It takes the individual journalist or the media house to play by the rule book by detaching themselves from the political, economic, and other socio-cultural trappings that come with their job.
Media practitioners now have their work cut out. And as December 2021 looms large on the horizon, reporters and anchors of current affairs programmesseem to be under the sort of scrutiny akin to persons overseeing the statecraft. The local media and its handling of the plethora of issues that continue to unfold on the political front will be central to how our society’s social fabric is further knitted together or disintegrates. For a country that is deeply divided along partisan politics and tribal lines(the elephant in the room), it behoves media practitioners to stay aboveboard in the discharge of their job. Whilst the media also helps stimulate citizen engagement in politics, its AGENDA SETTING role is such that people are bound to attach importance to that which journalists pay considerable attention.
As regards party politics, there lies the biggest conundrum for journalists and the news media industry itself. This is a period when headlines alone tend to cause a stir in town. Whereas headlines can be a matter of house style, not everyone, particularly those out of the contours of the trade would realise that they do not necessarily stick to the rules of grammar, explaining why even past events take the present tense; auxiliaryverbs are avoided; the omission of articles (a, an, the) as well as the usage of infinitives for future events. I got tempted to bring the stuff about HEADLINES because they can be misunderstood by many. I have seen people made a storm of out the tea cup in instances where no wrongdoing had been committed.In fact, in The Gambia, a single headline is enough to brand a journalist as a member of one political party or the other as long as it doesn’t chime with the reader. Asking a simple question too can incur the wrath of an unforgiving populace. For some Gambians, the only time one is hailed as a good journalist is when the person produces a story or a programme that do not ruffle their feathers. Do a story that becomes politically unpalatable and you will become a JOIN-THE-LIST. I am sure even the nation’s leading investigative reporter Mustapha K. Darboe is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly those at the receiving end of his eye-popping, saliva-inducing watchdog reporting.
Most recently however, the appearances of certain individuals on media platforms seemed to have rankled with people sitting on the different sides of the political aisle. While supporters across the political spectrum may loath seeing or hearing stuff that do not sit well with them, I bet no media house or programme host would entertain the idea of denying another Gambian a seat in the studio on account of what they may end up saying or what their profile is. That wouldn’t only border on prejudice by way of predetermining the guest’s utterances but more dangerously tantamount borderline CENSORHIP. Anything beyond the media’s GATEKEEPING role will be a step too far for journalists. That role is easier for print media by virtue of their editorial set-up rather than electronic outlets that are more often than not operating live nowadays.As far as journalists are concerned, my opinion is that NEWS VALUES more than any other factors will continue to influence their choosing of guests or interviewees for their respective shows. These will be: prominence, conflict, oddity, relevance, prominence, timeliness, and proximity. Where a member of a political party is deemed to have been the subject of mudslinging by another, the best form of recourse would be activating the RIGHT OF REPLY or right of correction on the same platform where such things were said.
Since it is my contention that everyone deserves to begiven a fair crack of the whip by the media, it is also my legit concern that persons that appear on shows have an obligation and a duty of care not just to self – but importantly to country. Utterances that fan the flames of hatred, bigotry and personality attacks do not have a place in a decent society. Incendiary remarks should give way to issue-centred discourse and the media can foster the latter by asking the right questions. As to who qualifies to be the right panelistor guest for whatever show there is, the answer is as murky as our current polity itself.
It’s an election year. The stakes are high! Our political leaders need to tone down their remarks in the same way the media ought to uphold the tenets of RESPONSIBLE journalism. Shalom!
Famara Fofana is a freelance journalist and author of When My Village Was My Village. He is also a postgraduate student reading Media and Communications Studies at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Ankara University in Turkey.