Today the Freedom Newspaper published an editorial entitled, “Gambia: Editorial: Democracy At The Risk Of Being Subverted In The Gambia, With The Non-Conventional Independent Candidature Of Dr. Isatou Touray!” Yet in the article the paper did not say how is Isatou Touray’s candidature unconventional other than to enter into a barrage of opinionated vilifications of the woman for undisclosed reasons. Using circumstantial and unsubstantiated anecdotes, the author of the editorial did not spare any energy to attempt to condemn a citizen who is merely exercising her legitimate and legal constitutional right. But while seeking to soil the name and reputation of Dr. Isatou Touray, the author instead only helped to expose his or her own ignorance about the laws of the land and about the principles of democracy. More seriously the author has demonstrated glaringly that he or she does not understand the state of affairs in the Gambia as much as to care and therefore place his or her newspaper on the path of national service.
Thus it is difficult to find a right place to position this editorial by Freedom Newspaper simply because in one sense it appears as if the online paper is also a contender in this election. On the other hand it appears the paper is a Yaya Jammeh surrogate more or less at the same level as Samsudeen Sarr. At the same time, the editorial is so ignorant of a number of issues that one wonders whether this is a paper that is run by an educated Gambian journalist or a foreign political comedian. Yet still the editorial is utterly and baselessly mischievous against Dr. Isatou Touray as if there is a vendetta between the owners of the paper and the fine lady. Still the editorial is grossly irresponsible and uncaring to the Gambia and Gambians even though the editorial seeks to give the impression that it indeed is concerned about the misrule in the Gambia. This is because the editorial has done everything possible to try to create confusion and divisions within the minds of the key stakeholders, in particular the political parties and leaders. Given the above one really finds it difficult to describe the intent of the author and the purpose of Freedom Newspaper as a whole. What is certain though is that the Editorial, the author and the newspaper have clearly shown their determined stance against the national interest of the Gambia at a time when all citizens are expected to demonstrate the highest ideals of patriotism and leadership, regardless of whether one is a journalist or farmer or teacher or doctor.
What we expect the Gambian media, at home and abroad to do is to hold our leaders to account by doing thorough and painstaking investigations. We expect our media to expose with hard evidence any misconduct and corrupt practices that our politicians are doing or not doing. We expect our media and journalists to be responsible in their characterization of citizens and politicians because the media has a role to play in the maintenance of a culture of peace and harmony. We expect our media to engage our politicians and parties and indeed all stakeholders in seeking the truth but in that process to ensure that at all times decency prevails while also presenting the blunt and hard facts to help the citizens make informed decisions. We do not expect the media to become demagogues themselves and to be the news instead of reporting the news.
However this Freedom Newspaper editorial did not fulfill that role this time. For example, while insisting that Isatou Touray is an imposition, yet the editorial did not say how Isatou was imposed on the people, rather forgetting, nay ignoring the fact that the 1997 constitution and the Elections Act have clear provisions supporting any Gambian qualified to be a voter to also qualify to stand for an independent candidate in the presidential and National Assembly elections. Since 1996, the Gambia has seen numerous individuals stand for independent candidates and won their seats in the parliament. Thus if the editorial had done its research, and bereft of malice it would have seen that Isatou is merely exercising her constitutional right to stand as an independent. Secondly, there is no law that says Madi cannot ask or support Isatou to stand for president. Thus if any three or more Gambian women or men anywhere in the world felt that Isatou has the capacity to stand, they are also within their rights to ask her to stand even if the choice to actually stand is left with Isatou herself. Again, Freedom Newspaper failed its responsibility to use common sense to realize that Isatou or any party cannot in any way impose his or her candidature on any party or coalition. If that was possible, Ousainou or Halifa or Hamat could have imposed themselves on people since 1996. What the editorial sadly refused to acknowledge even though it claims to speak in the name of democracy is the fact that democracy is about choice. Isatou‘s husband has a right to advise his wife to stand or not to stand. Isatou has a right to go independent or join another party. Any Gambian or group of citizens have a right to support Isatou or not to support her. Thus it is utterly disingenuous to classify the choice that individuals make in a democracy as mischievous and undemocratic just because you disagree.
The crux of the issue however is this: if indeed the Freedom Newspaper is true to itself and wishes to play a constructive role in defeating dictatorship in the Gambia, it must first of all ask itself what is the state of affairs in the Gambia. Does the freedom Newspaper in actual fact understand what is the state of affairs in the Gambia? The editorial however has shown that indeed the newspaper is not fully aware of the situation because if it does it will not seek to pollute the stakeholders who are trying to restore democracy in the country. Thus Freedom Newspaper has shown that it is only interested in entrenching dictatorship in the Gambia because it has sought to not only weaken democracy, but to actually vilify the opposition as a whole, unfairly.
When Freedom Newspaper spoke about Isatou running out of money because the Gambia banned FGM, does this paper understand the nature of policy and development? Does the paper not realize that in fact the fight against FGM has just begun because one has to raise the awareness of the people about the law so that they can comply. Does the paper realize that FGM is a longstanding cultural practice that even with the law, it does not automatically follow that individuals will stop the practice the next day. There is still need to continue to educate the people to abandon the practice, not just because of the law, but also because the practice is a human rights violation.
By the way, has freedom Newspaper interviewed Isatou or obtained any information from any source that indicates that GAMCOTRAP or Isatou is bankrupt? That is the information that Freedom newspaper should share. Yet it went to levy huge allegations on the person of Isatou and her organization without giving any evidence to the allegation. Isatou is not a small girl to just jump out of her office to stand for president and therefore to characterize her in that matter is utterly disrespectful and against the ethics of the trade. Which politician in the Gambia since Edward Francis Small has better experience than Isatou? If working with communities and around the country is what qualifies one’s connection with the community, then there is no Gambian politician yet who has indeed spent at least two decades consistently every week running around villages and towns in this country engaging with locals. Yet how can one therefore claim Isatou has no political experience as if Yaya Jammeh or Ousainou Darboe or Hamat Bah or even Jawara had gone to the ‘University of Political Experience’ before they entered partisan politics. Sometimes we do not even listen to ourselves when we talk.
Why would Freedom Newspaper insinuate that anyone’s candidature is a product of another circumstance? Why did Jawara or PS Njie enter politics in the first place? Why did Halifa Sallah or Ousainou Darboe enter politics? What about Mama Kandeh or Hamat Bah? Are these people not within their rights as per our constitution to engage in partisan politics? Why then would anyone insinuate that one entered into politics just to live off the misery or the downfall of the other. This is a narrow-minded analysis bent on tarnishing the image of Isatou and disrespecting the entire population of the Gambia. By its analysis, is Freedom Newspaper therefore saying anyone who accepts Isatou as a candidate is therefore dumb and mischievous? This is not the kind of journalism that any society deserves. Even if one has his or her opinion to express, yet journalists and newspapers bear a responsibility to ensure that when they express their opinion it is based on facts and evidence and rational analysis because this is what the trade demands. Otherwise by merely engaging in gutter analysis without any basis in law or evidence then such journalism and newspaper is merely perpetuating mediocrity, oppression and division.
Isatou has issued her manifesto and has given interviews to several media outlets. We expect our media to scrutinize her on the basis of her manifesto and claims. Dissect her manifesto and ask hard questions about how and why she identified the issues. Engage other independent experts to further analyze her manifesto from an economic or social points of view. Is her position on education or health or agriculture appropriate or outlandish. Let the experts say so. Find out how she interacts with the rest of the opposition and what are the issues they are discussing or not. Interrogate her track record and activities as well as her organization and indeed her entire life. As a citizen, this is what I expect our media to do. If you can, go ahead to organize a presidential debate as the media in America do so as to help citizens to make the right choice. There is lot of thrash in the America media one can swallow hook, line and sinker but there is also lot of good and best practices that one can adopt and follow to serve your community better.
Journalism is not a circus meant to only entertain. Journalism is not a picnic and certainly there is no picnic in the Gambia. More than anyone, journalists are expected to stand with and reflect the deepest aspirations of the masses. Great journalists and the very origin and purpose of journalism have always been about standing up for and with the people. There is no better celebrated journalists to use as an example than the America Joseph Pulitzer who spent his entire life in the defence of truth, justice and accountability with his various newspapers from the late 1800 and early 1900. While going into retirement, he had said,
“I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always be fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”
He went further to describe one of his papers thus,
“The Post and Dispatch will serve no party but the people; will be no organ of Republicanism, but the organ of truth, will follow no caucuses but its own convictions; will not support the Administration, but criticize it; will oppose all frauds and shams wherever and whatever they are; will advocate principles and ideas rather than prejudices and partisanship.”
In light of the above, every Gambian journalist must therefore ask himself or herself the fundamental question as to how do I help the people and stand against corruption, abuse and demagoguery at this critical juncture when these ills are highly prevalent in our society. It is quite urgent and necessary to remind the Freedom Newspaper to understand that the culture of talk show business in America today has fundamentally changed from what journalism is especially as bequeathed to this world by Joseph Pulitzer. Thus any Gambian journalist in the Diaspora must bear in mind that while the US can afford such journalistic malpractice by talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck who are completely opposite and contrary to Pulitzer, yet the Gambia and Gambian journalists cannot afford such gross professional misconduct. When a journalist in an environment like the Gambia engages in the Limbaugh and Beck kind of misconduct, and support for demagoguery, mediocrity and bigotry as represented by the Republican Party today, then such Gambian journalist is also an abettor and an accomplice of Yaya Jammeh in the Gambia. There is nothing in the culture of such talk show hosts in the US and the Republican Party today to emulate because these two have become the antithesis of their original selves. While the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln and an anti-slavery party, today the Republican Party has come to represent absolutely nothing that looks like American values. At the same time the America media, from CNN to Fox and those in between except for such responsible media as Democracy Now and similar voices have become nothing other than abettors of what Pulitzer calls demagogues, the rich, the corrupt and plunderers.
This is the very reason why Pulitzer made this very prophetic point when he won a libel case against the US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. By then his newspaper, The World exposed a fraudulent payment of $40 million by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company. The federal government indicted Pulitzer for criminally libeling the President, but the courts dismissed the indictments, and in his public statement, this true journalist says,
“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
At this critical juncture in the history of the Gambia our journalists should ask themselves where do they stand? Do they stand for the people or against the people. There is no middle ground in this and standing for the people does not in any diminish the ethical standards and role of the media. Rather it gives justification and meaning to journalism. Thus Freedom Newspaper has a responsibility to unsympathetically scrutinise Dr. Isatou Touray and indeed all candidates and report to the almighty people. But this scrutiny must be in good faith, devoid of any unfounded, malicious and personalised and unprovoked attacks. By engaging in such unethical practices, Freedom Newspaper would not then be helping the Gambia to chart through very turbulent waters to safer shores. The ABC of journalism is accuracy, balance and clarity. In these principles and standards, the whole world can fit in there. Therefore no journalist has an excuse to misrepresent.
I hope the newspaper will learn a thing or two, with humility and honesty.
Written By Madi Jobarteh