The last time President Barrow faced the press was in August 2018. His reason? He didn’t like the way and manner I posed a question to him.
I find the president’s behaviour towards the media hugely ridiculous. A man who shortly after coming to power promised to engage journalists every six months, two years is now how much have gone since he took part in a serious media event.
Yet on Tuesday, the president had the audacity to preach ethics to journalists. In fact, if he has any clue, he will realise what he’s preaching doesn’t exist in journalism.
The issue of neutrality in journalism has been a subject of great controversy among journalism scholars. Neutrality is hugely problematic if looked at within the lens of staying aloof of issues and politicians and their behaviour. Should a journalist stay detached when clearly a politician is misbehaving, as dictated by neutrality? Should a journalist stay removed when a fight breaks out betweeen the powerful and the powerless? Or should a journalist be on the side of the masses or not when they’re up against the almighty state? These are all questions that continue to prove tricky and relevant.
In my 10 years as a journalist, what I have come to learn is that a journalist should be impartial. This is not exactly the same as neutral. Impartial means fair. It very much doesn’t mean a reporter cannot point out the wrong behaviour of politicians. It also doesn’t in any way interpret to a journalist not allowed to state his opinion on the wrong conduct of politicians.
When politicians commit wrongs, it’s the journalist who should on behalf of the people point them out. They can even criticise such politicians. Just that that’s exactly what is often regarded as being bias in The Gambia.
It’s also interesting to hear the president say it’s professional journalists who are winning awards. He very much confused himself there. His government has turned a blind eye to the massive corruption and all the wrongs award-winning journalists such as Mustapha K Darboe have exposed in the past two years. He very much trusts and works with people who have been indicted in various investigations conducted by Mustapha – and as in the words of the journalist himself, ‘nobody cares’.
And again if you ask me, President Barrow doesn’t have any moral authority to tell Gambian journalists how they should be going about their trade. A leader who runs from journalists? In America, Trump every day fights with reporters but that hasn’t stopped him from engaging them in the Rose Garden every other day.
British journalist Piers Morgan has been quite brutal towards Trump in recent months over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But just at the weekend, Piers said Trump called him and said they had a decent conversation.
The president should know there is no such thing as neutrality in journalism.