The Gambia: challenges of reporting in crisis situations
Journalists in and outside The Gambia discuss the challenges of reporting under a crisis situation with a repressive government at the helm.
This programme was recorded on Friday 20 January 2017, one hour before the midday deadline Ecowas gave Yahya Jammeh to step down peacefully or be removed by West African forces.
Journalists talk about the challenges of reporting on The Gambia
Journalists in The Gambia have been threatened, arrested and detained. That's why so many of them carry out their profession in exile.
The guests of host Zeenat Hansrod to this round table are:
- From The Gambia’s capital Banjul: Saikou Jammeh, freelance journalist for the local and international media.
- From Senegal: Sheriff Bojang Junior, a Gambian journalist, senior producer for West Africa Democracy Radio, freelance reporter for RFI, New African magazine and a UK daily, the Guardian.
Sheriff left The Gambia for security reasons 15 years ago and hasn’t been back since. He is talking to us from Karang, a town on the Senegal/Gambia border.
- From Sweden: Mama Linguere Sarr who hosts a daily talk show, "Good Day Gambia", for the online media Gainako. Mama was last in The Gambia in 2012 and hasn’t returned back to her homeland because of security concerns.
- From Sierra Leone: veteran journalist Kelvin Lewis with 30 years experience in the field. Kelvin knows what it means to work under duress, he was in Sierra Leone during the war which he covered from 1993 till the end in January 2000.
Kelvin has been editor of the daily Awoko for the past 18 years, is the RFI & VOA correspondent in Sierra Leone and he is also the current President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist.
For Saikou Jammeh The Gambia is one of the worst places for journalists to work in. He talks about self-censorship practised by journalists because they do not want to run the risk of being arrested and jailed - sometimes indefinitely - without facing charges.
Sheriff Bojang says that Gambian journalists in exile are considered to be enemies of the state by the country's establishment. Hence, the difficulties in talking to government officials.
"They would rather talk to a white man from BBC or RFI", he says.
Officials are afraid of the repercussions they might face if found talking to journalists labelled as "dissidents" as they live in exile. Sheriff adds that local media, too, are relunctant to carry out his stories for fear of repressions.
According to Mama Linguere Sarr, journalists in The Gambia are happy to share information collected with media based outside the country - the online media Gainako - because at least there is no fear of censorship.
For Kelvin Lewis, drawing on his own experience as a war correspondent, objectivity is the main casualty in such a situation. He talks about the difficulty of getting both sides of the story and the repercussions journalists face as a result of "objectivity being sacrificed". Kelvin remembers how he has been held by Sierra Leonean rebels, who accused him of being biased, on several occasions.
Sheriff Bojang and Mama Linguere Sarr talk about the difficulties of living and working in exile. "I was left with very few friends. Even from the diaspora, they will dissociate themselves with you because they feel that if they are friends, they will not be able to go to The Gambia, " said Sarr, "My mum was saying why you are putting my life in danger, why you are putting your life in danger."
Saikou Jammeh, answering a question put to him by Sheriff Bojang, tells us how complicated it is to preserve one’s own security in a small society where everyone knows who you are.
« It’s a very difficult situation, you have to balance between your safety and remaining on top of [stories]. » So, Jammeh always uses what he calls a « back up », someone who knows where he is going and who he is meeting to alert the outside world in case anything happens to him.
More often than not the authorities will not talk to journalists, so, the jounalists rely on sources close to them to provide information on what is going on. Mama Linguere Sarr says that girlfriends happen to be good sources because out of maschismo the men will boast about what they are doing.
« We have been able to penetrate the government in that way. Sometimes they are at the girlfriend’s house and they pick up the phone and it is the President and they are talking to him in front of the girls and they are showing off. »
In order to be able to survive in exile, Sheriff Bojang says that he had to shut off that part of his brain which missed The Gambia.
You may follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt
Music is Ocean Wave by Jack de Johnette and Foday Musa Suso.