Veteran Criticises Gambian Journalists

        Essau Williams/InsideSource photo

Gambian journalist based in the United Kingdom has advised his colleagues in the country to promote “journalism that fosters national unity”.

Mr. Essau Williams delivered his speech via a recorded video at the Gambia Press Union’s 2021 National Journalism Award on September 4th. As the Chief Judge of the Panel of Judges Mr. Williams also lampooned Gambian Journalists for what he called “the full-on assault and cold-blooded murder of the English” language.”

Below is the full transcript of Mr. Williams’s speech.

Ladies and gentlemen good evening and welcome to the 2021 National Journalism Awards. My name is Esau Williams, and I’d like to congratulate everyone of you who took the time out to put in an entry into tonight’s competition.

I’d also like to say from the outset that I’ll be speaking to you in my personal capacity and not as a member or employee of any organization.

I’ll be making the speech on behalf of the Panel of Judges for the Gambia Press Union 2021 National Journalism Awards.

The Panel this year comprised of the following:

Mrs Ndey Tapha Sosseh – Vice Chairperson; Mrs Amie Joof-Cole – Member; Mr Bora M’boge – Member; Mr Demba Kandeh – Member; and myself, Esau Williams – Chairperson.

The Gambia Press Union has as one of its core objectives the promotion of press freedom and freedom of speech. So, it is therefore in that light that I shall be delivering these remarks tonight. I will be brief, pointed and to the point.

Let me begin by saying that not a single member of the Panel of Judges was influenced in any way, shape, or form by anybody. This was a group of sterling journalists with integrity, character, and unimpeachable ethical and moral standards of which I was privileged to be a part.

I’d like to proceed to the core of the matter. It was the combined view of the Judges that most of this year’s entries were well below average and frankly, disappointing. The overall performance we thought was bad, with only – as you shall see in the awards – a handful of names coming up over and over again. It was clear that a lot of preparation didn’t go into many of the entries and as a result, opportunities were missed. There was a prevalence of editorial deficiency – in other words, laziness on an epic scale. There were even instances of derogatory language unfit for broadcast making it on air. We had examples of entries clearly
lifted academia being passed off as journalistic, and a few instances of plagiarism. On the whole, it was not a good specimen of robust, honest, or ethical journalism.

We previewed and reviewed every single entry based on the criteria given to us in our Terms of Reference by the GPU. Let me also state that we decided in the interest of fairness not to include entries for foreign news outlets. The reason we came to such a conclusion was because in order to create a level playing field, it would not be right to pit entries that have been re-written and corrected by news organizations around the world – major ones, if I may add – with the benefit of world-class editorship, against entries for media houses in The Gambia with a far limited capacity.

The Panel was deeply concerned about the gender gap. Of all the entries shortlisted, only 14% came from women. The Panel also noted with dismay the lack of entries for the Women’s Reporting category, which then translated into a lack of gender sensitive reporting. We couldn’t quite put our finger on the reason why such gaps exist. In the overall reporting of stories, men were four times more likely to appear as sources than women. Serious work needs to be done around the taking of the reporting of issues that affect women seriously.
The question of women and representation also ties into the wider scope of development reporting and the lack of entries in this category. We all agreed that as a developing country, The Gambia’s journalistic output should reflect stories about ordinary people and their lives and the issues they face on a daily basis. This should be journalism aimed at lifting them out of poverty and ignorance – after all, the job of the media is to educate and inform. Agriculture and health entries also reflected this deficiency in coverage of development issues. While on the theme of development, a quick note too about our observations of the need to have journalism that fosters national unity, especially in a polarising and highly charged election
year. It is the duty of the media to de-escalate tension, even if the politicians don’t have the good sense to do so.

My fellow Judges detected problematic areas to do with sourcing of stories. We often encountered single sources and also observed a lack of diversity and stakeholders in storytelling. All of these translated into a failure to produce evidence-based reporting, and very little by way of journalistic depth and curiosity, which in turn stifled creativity, flair, and imagination. There was also an overall lack of professionalism and authenticity. The putting on of fake accents is distracting and destructive because it takes attention away from the story to how its sounding. At times, it bordered on the ridiculous and comical, blurring the line between news and entertainment.

An area of major concern was the failure to arrange words and phrases to form and create well-formed sentences. Syntax and grammar went right out of the window. Subjects and verbs disagreed like never before and were at sixes and sevens at every turn. The Judges noted with horror the full-on assault and cold-blooded murder of the English tongue! As English remains the official language of The Gambia, it is the view of the Panel that the language be taught properly from an elementary level to enhance the critical thinking and writing skills of journalists later on in life. A junior journalist writing a story with grammatical errors is one thing. An editor allowing the publication of such a story is unforgiveable, and herein lies our charge of editorial laziness and poor gatekeeping. There must be ethical standards in the newsroom where editors as the last line of defence pick up on what are frankly embarrassing mistakes that are completely avoidable with careful subediting.

We also noted areas of improvement with technical issues concerning picture quality in some of the videos – for example, poor lighting, bad sound quality… these are all little kinks that can be ironed out and would make a vast improvement in the listening and viewing quality of the entries.

Having said that, all is not lost… there is hope. There is vast room for improvement. The collective view of the Panel of Judges is that the Gambia Press Union should intensify its efforts by enhancing training at the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC), by way of e-learning, for example. This could provide invaluable help for junior journalists, but also especially for editors, sub-editors and gatekeepers. The help can come in the form of regularly mandated refresher training courses and the sharing of ideas and best practices. There should be ways of teaching news practitioners how to measure the impact of their stories on the public through feedback and other means. Establishing a mentoring and coaching scheme is yet another way of increasing journalistic capacity and quality in The Gambia.

Finally, on a personal note, the education system has clearly failed if judging by the quality of the standards of journalism is anything to go by in The Gambia. The complete inability to comprehend issues, and what’s more, to abide by the grammatic rules of the written and spoken word is alarming. I therefore urge every journalist to read widely on your own free time, try to extend your vocabulary, be curious about the world around you, and make sure always, you prepare for interviews. Do the earnest background work, and during your interviews ask the tough and difficult questions of those in power. See your job as a voice for the voiceless. You should speak up. Fear no one. And let the truth be your guiding light. The poet, George Orwell said it best I think: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’, and those words are a reminder to everyone and especially to journalists that journalism is not about pandering, but rather, speaking truth to everyone, irrespective of their ‘perceived’ status.

My hope and prayer for you is that politicians, the corrupt, and the dishonest who thrive in the dark alleyways of this life quake at the sound of your name. I thank you all for your attention and have a very good evening. Thank you.

End of Speech

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