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GPU National Journalism Awards: Glitz, Glamour and Home Truths

Barely few days after the nation was taken through the nerve wracking experiences of Gambian journalists during the past 22 years, the Gambia Press Union staged its 4th National Journalism Awards in style.

The contrast in mood within the space of days couldn’t be more clearer. Unlike the horror tales recounted by GPU Secretary General Saikou Jammeh and Co, the awards night panned out like some spectacle. 

On this night, cries were replaced by jiggles, smiles, and  laughter with a well choreographed comedy show led by the young duo of Alhajie Bora and Alhajie Muhammad. Such has been unthinkable change in the fortunes of the local media that members of the executive arm of the government could sit shoulder to shoulder with those from the fourth estate of the realm. 

Beyond the razzmatazz that has become a hallmark of this increasingly significant annual event, this year’s awards ceremony came as a three-pronged affair.  There was the introduction of members of the all-important Media Council of the Gambia by the erudite Nana Grey-Johnson, launch of the State of Press Freedom in The Gambia by Information and Communications Minister Ebrima Sillah and the headline act: the conferring of awards of different categories to the press men and woman. 

A nominee receiving award(Momodou Gajaga) QTV

For the nominees and more so those that eventually scooped the different gongs, the feeling naturally must be one of pride – that the hard shifts they have put in yielded fruits, and thus worthy of recognition, appreciation and respect from not only colleague journalists but their compatriots as a whole.

Now that the awards are out of sight, it is important that we remind each other about few home truths with a view to addressing some of the perennial issues dogging what has always been and shall remain a noble craft.  Despite the now more favourable post-Jammeh media landscape, no one can dispute the fact that the issue of below par and low quality reportage is very much alive in our country. Quality here cannot be treated in isolation of ethics. Even where there exist highly experienced and trained journalists, the deeds or misdeeds of a few remain a huge blot in our collective copy book. By his own admission, GPU President Sheriff Bojang Junior did acknowledge that in terms of sticking to the ethical principles that underpin our trade, Gambian media remains a work in progress.  

Hardly a week passes by without public uproar about a story that has a part of it misleading or someone coming out to say s/he has been quoted wrongly or that which s/he said were badly misrepresented in a particular story by some journalist(s). Our editors can’t afford to take things for granted since the mishaps of one are used by a rather unforgiving populace to paint us all with one brush. It is high time we debunked the widely held notion that we are merely a “bunch of half baked semi-educated folks.” 

Apparently also, there seems to be an obsession on the part of the local media with its coverage and reporting of political affairs at the expense of other sectors/issues begging for urgent attention. Truth is that political beats by their very nature will always remain hot cake both for journalists and their publics, but at a time when rural poverty, environmental destruction and child abuse are almost of endemic proportions in our shores, it will be a disservice for the media to treat them as secondary. This is owing to the number of people whose lives are dependent on sectors like agriculture, fisheries, sand mining, etc. This role which borders on the Social Responsibility theory of the press now seems to be the preoccupation of the country’s swelling number of activists.

Alieu Ceesay-QTV (left) receiving his award

The level and prevalence of sensationalism in the Gambian media is also getting worrisome.  Where focus should be placed on the meat of a matter, we at times tend to indulge a lot in the petty matters that often do not even correspond with the attention grabbing headlines that are beautifully crafted.

Added to this is the seemingly small but dangerous matter of journalists playing the role of jury, judge and executioner when it comes to dealing with every other subject. It is not uncommon these days to see our kind talking about everything under the sun without the requisite professional grounding in those fields- from the economy, national security to climate change. To avoid slipping into  dangerous territory or falling off from the proverbial cliff and for the purpose of understanding, journalists should and must do the honour of engaging persons with the expertise and intellectual nous to dissect for the reader/viewer/listener issues that require expert analysis or explanation. That is the sure way to go about it. Washing one’s own dirty linens in public is a recipe for reputational damage. 

Finally, for a body that continues to be a force to be reckoned with, tapping into a growing partnership portfolio and now enjoying healthier ties with the different stakeholders notably government, the GPU should further recalibrate efforts aimed at repealing the remaining unfriendly media laws.  The provisions on false news and false publication and broadcasting as mentioned in the just launched State of Press Freedom in The Gambia report are scary and stifling. Also, continue to prevail on media chiefs to offer better remuneration and/or incentives for journalists. Unless that is done, ethics will not only be compromised but some of the most experienced and promising ones will be tempted to swap the newsroom for the corporate world.  

It must be said that despite the inherent challenges and other factors militating against the local media, the crop of emerging stars offers a glimmer of hope for the industry. There is no doubting of the raw talent, the desire and courage in the ranks of young ones that are in the front and centre of media practice. 

Aluta continua!

Famara Fofana is a freelance journalist and the author is ‘When My Village Was My Village’ and ‘Reflections of an African Village Boy’.

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