Barrow drives dagger into the heart of media in hateful speech
Every year, 3rd May is observed globally to remind governments and other stakeholders of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. The day is also set aside for friends of the media to support journalists who are oftentimes targets of violation and abuse. It is also a day set aside to remember those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. Most often than not, on such a day, media workers reflect on issues of press freedom and professional ethics in small gatherings organized by journalism/press bodies.
So, it is indeed sad, disappointing and unfortunate that on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the Gambian leader, Adama Barrow chooses to launch an attack on the media for merely doing their job. He also attacked a human rights activist who is constitutionally empowered to express his views on matters of national interest. But what is even more shocking is the platform he used to launch such attacks and to who he was speaking to.
Barrow told Muslim religious leaders and the council of elders of the Capital City, Banjul that the media is contributing to the destabilizing of the country for simply giving a platform to one of his leading critics, Madi Jobarteh who himself was a journalist now human and civil rights defender.
Such comments are untimely, unnecessary and uncalled for, but even worst coming a day before World Press Freedom Day. Was it deliberate? Why did he make such comments before religious leaders? For such a message to have come at a time the nation is expecting messages of unity, assurance and hope, makes me wonder, where we are heading to.
But this only shows that Adama Barrow doesn’t want anyone to beam the spotlight on the ills of his government. In fact, the Madi I know has been consistently defending the rights and dignities of the Gambian people. He holds political leaders and parties seeking power to check. He holds the sitting government to check so they do not mismanage our funds and reminds them to uphold the values of democracy, good governance and rule of law. The Madi I follow and read is a social commentator who agrees with the truth and disagrees with falsehood in most of his writings.
This Barrow who accuses the media of trying to burn this country is the same guy who hailed the media some five years ago, promised media law reforms, brags about unseating a dictator and installing democracy, brags about giving license for the operation of more media houses, etc.
The president’s press office should remind him that one of the cardinal roles of the media is to amplify the voices of those who hold power to account for an enlightened population. People close to the corridors of power at the State House should remind Barrow that as president, he should focus on addressing issues without drawing unnecessary negative public attention.
The theme for this year’s WPFD celebration, ‘Journalism under Surveillance’ is apt for The Gambia with such comments from the president a day before. Stakeholders and interest groups in The Gambia should buckle up and mark the day with a march past and a symposium where they engage the government and other stakeholders.
Mr President, now tell me, from now on, who can clear your name from any form of verbal or physical assault meted on Madi Jobarteh or a journalist? The world is watching.
2020 Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellow
Chelsea Cloister, London