Journalism from The Gambia's Perspective

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Journalism is a noble profession and journalists are important members of any society because their function involves informing the public, educating the public and providing entertainment from time to time. Every country should strive to develop a viable press as part of its development programme.

Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and other West African states can all boast of several media house producing newspapers daily, weekly, quarterly magazines or bi annual. In The Gambia during the colonial period there were well- known veteran journalists like Messrs Edward Small, Finden Daley. Noble Allen, Lenrie Peters, and Dixon Colley, who owned media houses and published newspapers on a weekly basis. Recently we can boast of Babucarr Gaye now deceased, Deyda Hydara who was brutally murdered by unknown assailants three years ago, Trawally, and others who are still active.

When war broke out in Liberia many Liberians flocked into The Gambia as refugees. Among these was a Liberian journalist Mr. Kenneth Best and his family, most of whom were journalists also. He soon noticed the lack of a viable press in the country and decided to embark upon opening a media house which he named The Observer. He first carried out a feasibility study and he was discouraged by those who expressed the view that Gambians were not a reading public and that a daily newspaper would not sell as people would not spend money on purchasing newspapers. Mr. Best was undaunted by this feasibility study and went ahead to establish The Daily Observer office at Sait Matty road in Bakau Newtown in 1992.

At the initial stages most of his family worked at the office as proof readers.

Mr. Best and his family and Gambian helpers including myself worked very hard to produce the newspaper and to keep it going. This was the beginning of a new era in the history of journalism in the country. It will be recalled that The Point newspaper owned by Deyda Hydara and Pap Saine, was established on 16thDecember 1991whilst Daily Observer was established 11thMay 1992.

As well as the functions of the newspaper as indicated above, it is worth noting that there is another fundamental function of a newspaper which is that of a watchdog. A watchdog is a dog kept by a householder to keep watch over his house and property. These animals are always alert and maintain constant watch over the complex. This is where journalists play a vital role; they are supposed to identify what is happening in the country and publish articles in the newspapers pertaining to those occurrences. This is where freedom of the press is essential, but unfortunately this issue is what results in conflicts between journalists and governments around the world.

Many countries boast of permitting press freedom in their individual states, but alas! This is not a reality. Journalists are not regarded as important members of the society and partners in the development programmes. They become the enemies of the state if they dare to publish any unpopular government policy or criticize them. Journalists in many countries are harassed, often detained by the authorities, tortured while in detention and killed in some cases.

The case of Deyda Hydara, a veteran journalist, is a case in point. He was brutally murdered three years ago and up to date his assailants have not been discovered and punished for such a hideous crime. It is a sorry and awful plight for journalists to be murdered in cold blood for executing their normal duties in the society.

Author: By Bijou Peters