Call it the absurdity of the year! The Gambia’s press corps has been yearning for freedom of operation for decades and one would only assume that once that freedom is finally earned, they would cherish and protect it like a piece of diamond or the first born child of a Kanyelengwoman and name it Maabally (untouchable).

Alas, Gambians are good at endangering their own good fortune. Indeed we have witnessed several cases of individuals and entities throwing their very own victory right into the jaws of defeat in New Gambia, but the press as a group should know better; and definitely a group that is well placed to enlighten the masses should never be in want of wisdom as a collective entity.

So what went wrong at the nation’s apex body responsible for the welfare and protection of Journalists in this country?

Those who are familiar with the set up at the executive committee of the GPU would not be too surprised. Their carefully choreographed election surely delivered for the wheelers and dealers of the GPU when close friends captured the key positions as the top guns of the media union.

As if that is not enough of a risk for the effective running of the affairs of this institution of the most crucial importance to our nation building process, executive members started showing their political colours way too soon. It is an open secret that Gambians know exactly which political party key members of the GPU executive dally with. Indeed the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is right “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

The recent verbal assault meted out to journalist Lamin Njie by the current President of The Gambia Press Union Sheriff Bojang Jr. on the sidelines of the Ya Kumba Jaiteh case at the Supreme Court revealed a lot. Why would an innocent request for an interview on a matter so critical evoke so much negative emotion and palpable sense of vengeance?

There are many cases exhibiting the inherent malaise within the top echelons of the GPU and the space here would not allow a full rendition but a recent case is worth a mention. A local journalist with close blood ties with the GPU leadership was caught trafficking drugs but once the incident happened there was a quick complot among the leading journalists to hush that news and indeed they succeeded in making sure that the case, that was dropped due to interference from relatives of that journalist in the government, was ‘silenced’. If this case involved a non-journalist, it would have been all over the Gambian news cycle and in search engines.

With all the whistle blowing about the abuse of human rights during the former regime, some major media houses played roles, active and tacit, in the suffering of certain victims but you can be rest assured that those matters regarding the press will be muted in our current TRRC process. The case of the late Ousman Koro Ceesay was ‘investigated’ by a particular newspaper and declared an accident at the time; but was this matter mentioned in the TRRC’s investigation of that particular incident so far? The late Famara Jatta was fried as Finance Minister thanks to a case of unprofessional journalistic conduct. Certain people fell victim to circumstances due to the unprofessional conduct of certain media houses; this is a known fact. But there was no admission of guilt or apology about such unfortunate incidents to date.

We must acknowledge that the President of the GPU did publicly apologise for his unwarranted toxic attack on a fellow journalist. Personally I am not calling for the GPU President to resign but the silence of the GPU as an institution in this matter is deafening.

If we must make genuine progress as a nation, those tasked with holding others to account must behave in ways above board by all means. I am hoping the GPU as an institution will rise up to the occasion and use this particular case as an opportunity for soul-searching and rectification.

We are all Gambians and we must nurture the spirit of magnanimity and empathy that is characteristic of us as a cultured nation. But truth must be told and accepted for what it is if our collective conscience should remain healthy and resilient.

Momodou Sabally

The Gambia’s Pen