civil society and the Gambia Press Union (GPU) have adopted a unanimous
position in calling for the media to put the public good first ahead of any other
considerations, in a bid to promote “healing and reconciliation efforts in the
Media should objectively set facts in reporting and focus on views based on facts, which would sway hearts and minds away from negativity and pro-conflict stories, and more towards cooperation and reconciliation, Demba Ali Jawo, Minister of Information, told a gathering of over 30 journalists yesterday.
“Should the media actively support transitional justice measures as a proactive party seeking to influence public opinions, highlighting what it deems to be in the public interest – or should it simply become a neutral observer and report facts in a neutral manner?” Minister Jawo threw a challenging question to the group, which a year ago he would have called ‘colleagues.’
“Transitional justice and conflict sensitive reporting are new to us – meaning we are faced with a new reality,” Bai Emil Touray, President of the Gambia Press Union said.
“We are not only expected to cover sittings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [set up by government] in professional and progressive manner, but we must endeavour to detach emotions from articles and stories we report, especially when most of us were victims one way or the other,” Touray said.
Touray said journalists must also be wary of the use of the social media, which as a useful tool as it has become in their work, will have negative effects on the sensibilities of traumatized victims.
“While we want justice done, our ultimate objective should not be retributive justice, but justice that would reconcile the nation and support national healing efforts, initiated by government,” Touray said.
The Gambia is going through an important phase of democratisation process, said Ms. Anna Jones, National Coordinator, West Africa Network for Peace-building (Gambia Chapter). Key among these is the Transitional Justice process, which includes truth, reconciliation and reparation, prosecutions, reform processes and truth telling, Ms. Jones added.
“Each of these areas can generate a wealth of stories and— for the media — many challenges. They have a great role to play, as Transitional Justice reporting requires in-depth investigation to excavate through layers of complex, contested versions of the truth. The process, however, is not only about naming and shaming. It’s also about healing, about conversations and dialogue and finding common ground,” she added.
According to her, journalists play a crucial role in sensitising the public about the process, addressing issues of identity (political, economic, cultural, and ethnic) and in shaping the extent to which reconciliation, peace and stability can be sustained.