Gambia: Rejoinder: Re: On Journalist Mamour Mbenga’s Ordeal


Having read this story in your news-site, I am inclined to share my views with you and readers on the story. In terms of the veracity of the story, I think the Foroyaa Newspaper may want to clarify further. However, taking into account of what Mbenga and Fabakarry said has compelled me to conclude that the uppermost thing in their minds is their claim of dissatisfaction of editorial decisions that are made on their reports. The duo equally expressed gratitude to Foroyaa for all that the paper has done for them during their work there. I am just wondering why the publications of their personal stories are so important to them.

SULAYMAN BAHMbenga’s explained that his story was edited and slanted and his editor Sam Sarr’s explanation for slanting his story was not good reason enough, but he did not go further to explain what his ‘Editor’ told him and did not indicate the reasons why he was not satisfied.

Mr. Mbenga gave credit to the paper for the fact that Sam Sarr visited him at his house, gave him money for medical treatment bills and food for the family, and advised him to visit the hospital for treatment. Despite the elderly advice, the young man decided to nurse his sickness at home and eventually decided to leave the country without notifying the management of Foroyaa.

While I sympathise with Mr Mbenga for the ordeal he claimed to have experienced in the hands of the security agents, I could not understand why he quickly left the country, hence the paper was taking care of his family needs, medical bills, as well as helping him to have better treatment and protection at home.

Another interesting point he made is that he was recalled and warned not to cover the story, hence someone else was assigned to do so but he persisted doing the coverage, even though he was aware that his story would not be published. What was his motive in forcing himself to continue covering the story, despite an editorial advice?

As a journalist, my experience is that Foroyaa just like any other mainstream media such as the BBC has news values that serve as professional code of conduct for its reporters. The scale of Foroyaa`s journalism carries risk and Halifa`s call for Mbenga to return to the office is an important leadership role he played like any editor based on editorial reasons.

However, it is important to note that news-censorship and selective editorial publications exists even in media friendly environments that guarantee freedom of expression and the press. It is my view that succinct editors who understand media law and professional journalism will edit their stories in accordance with their paper’s editorial policies and guidelines in view of protecting both sources and reporters.

In a situation whereby a reporter claimed to be tortured but could not show any evidence of torture for editorial scrutiny and verification, is a controversial story and should be with diligence, hence if horridly published handled could endanger the life of the reporter, staff and the paper.

In as much as someone is eager to see his story in the paper, I think the safety and protection of the entire institution and other fellow employees should be the greater concern of all, instead of a personal desire to see one’s own story published. What is the objective of the publication and what purpose would it serve at the times of political controversy? According to article 3.10 of the BBC editorial guidelines, “In times of emergency or when a military action is under way, journalism may be constrained by questions of national security. Such times are particularly testing for journalists, as for others. Matters involving risk to, and loss of, life need handling with the utmost sensitivity to national mood and feeling.”How about if national security supersedes Mbenga`s journalistic interest and his ordeal is just ascribed to national security matters before being recognised as journalistic.

Many practising young journalists/reporters in the Gambia goes through apprenticeship trainings on report writing skills at Foroyaa and other media institutions in the country and apparently becomes Freelance or Staff Reporters. In my opinion, most of these reporters are trained to write reports but are not professionally sophisticated to cover riots or demos, which could be risky particularly in a military dictatorship. For example in the UK when the BBC is covering any riot or demonstration, according to the ‘Broadcasters’ editorial guidelines “BBC people who suspect that their presence is inflaming a section of the crowd should withdraw at once. News coverage of a demonstration should offer a comprehensive and impartial view.”Essentially, when Gambians were demonstrating in front of President Jammeh`s hotel in the US, Fatou Camara used her journalistic credentials to take a side in the demo and was heard shouting “dictator Jammeh”, she was attacked and hurt despite living in a Western Democracy. Due to the repressive media environment in the Gambia, many reporters have fled the country and some changed their occupation.

In terms of censorship in the Gambia, all media institutions are involved in censorship to avoid reprisals and that includes the State owned broadcaster (GRTS). A Freedom of Information Act does not exist; the laws on chargeable offences such as defamation, sedition and false information against a public officers/officials are the legal instruments that are oftenly utilised to persecute, reprimand and lock-up journalists. Therefore, Foroyaa editors are professionally obliged to protect their reporters and avoid paying for heavy court fines or closure. 

Mr. Mbenga and Mr. Ceesay`s interview with the Freedom Radio has undoubtedly defied professional code of conduct and disregarded institutional confidentiality that could affect their personal journalistic profiles in future media related jobs.

Foroyaa has made a journalistic judgement on sound editorial reasons based on the paper`s editorial values. However, perhaps the spirit of the editors to employ possible tactics that would enable the institution to continue the struggle of emancipation is not the same spirit of those journalists who would rather have their stories published as to pave way for them in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

I think it is unfair to push a liberating national enterprise to publish owned stories for one’s personal interest to the detriment of the entire institution and struggle.

Just my opinion, thanks.

Written By Sulayman Bah

Join The Conversation