Pa Mbai’s Freedom And “Pen Names” Sources
As someone who believes in the “watchman” role of the media in any society, I have to say that the ex-Senegambia Hotel MD’s objection to the use of “pen names” by Pa Mbai’s sources is off the mark. Anonymous “sources” are used by all long-established media, including the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, etc, etc. “Pen Names” are no different from using anonymous sources and I would for one not criticise Freedom or anyone else for that.
“Writers should have the courage to stand up to their information”, says the MD. But that is all very well in parts of the world where writers are not fired from their jobs on the spot, are not arrested on the spot – or even shot dead on the spot.
The MD then asks “Is there still fear of publicly voicing your opinion?” That sounds slightly tongue in cheek and I thought of not answering it, but yes, there is “fear of publicly voicing your opinion” if you are going to the newspapers with the story which says: “Senegambia MD fires maid for refusing sexual advances”. Whether the story is true or false, the Senegambia MD will go after the source of that story with all the power and influence he has – if he knew who the source was. God help that source!
Finally, the MD says that anonymous sourcing of stories by Freedom “opens the door to uncontrolled allegations, rumours and misinformation”. This is indeed a danger and it is up to the editor/publisher to be responsibility with regard to what is put out in their paper.
The West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) have just been to The Gambia and expressed the wish to see “the decriminalisation of libel laws”. That indeed is as it should be and I would add “the decriminalisation all media laws”. That said, editors, media houses like Freedom and individual journalists must take responsibility for what they put out there because the civil law allows aggrieved persons to sue in the courts (not at the police station!) for “allegations, rumours and misinformation” – where these cannot be substantiated and cause harm to someone.
Both under UK law and Gambian law, it is up to the publisher to substantiate “allegations, rumours and misinformation” if challenged in court – it is not up to the complainant to prove it is false!
So it is in the interests of Freedom and other media outlets (and even facebook/twitter users!) to be careful about what they publish and verify “allegations, rumours and misinformation” before publishing.
PS: Last week we had a facebook and twitter libel and defamation case at the High Court here in London where heavy fines were handed out (£30000 and £50000 I think).
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