A Gambian Talents online television intern reporter said she was fired from her work because of a recent Vox Pox interview she had on the one hundred thousand face masks that the Banjul Mayor Rohey Malick Lowe had promised to the residents of Banjul, and the Mayor’s past drug trafficking conviction in Germany, as reported by the US based Freedom Newspaper. Reporter Fatoumatta Balajo told Freedom Radio Gambia in an interview on Monday that her coverage on the Mayor’s face masks promise and her past drug conviction doesn’t go down well with the management of The Gambian Talents. She said the video of her vox pox interviews was aired and later removed online. The proprietor of The Gambian Talents medium Pa Ousman Joof wasn’t happy with her coverage and he resorted to deleting the video from the medium’s Facebook page, she said.
The 27-year-old young reporter is from Allen street Banjul. She alleged that The Gambian Talents had been on the payroll of Mayor Rohey Lowe. She said the Mayor has been giving D20,000 dalasis to that medium on a monthly basis.
“When I interviewed the people of Banjul on the one hundred thousand face masks that the Mayor had promised to issue them, to my surprise, they said they haven’t seen or receive any face mask from the Mayor. The Mayor had earlier launched an appeal online, where she pleaded with the diasporan Gambian community to help donate money so that she can buy one hundred thousand face masks for the people of Banjul. The people I interviewed said they haven’t received any face mask from the Mayor’s office,” said Ms. Balajo.
“I also raised the issue of the Freedom Newspaper publication during my vox pox interview. I heard about the story about her alleged drug trafficking conviction during the Mayoral campaign. When Freedom reported the story few days ago, I decided to seek the reaction of her electorate. Little did I know that any coverage that has been perceived as negative against the Mayor was a red line firewall at Gambian Talents. Gambian Talents doesn’t want its reporters to report views critical of the Mayor. I was fired because of my coverage on the Mayor,” she added.
The Gambian Talents Promotion company recently received D20,000 dalasis donation from Mayor Rohey Malick Lowe’s Foundation. The medium said the Mayor’s donation would go a long way in helping to facilitate the training of its interns.
Gambian Talents had been soliciting donations from Municipalities and government agencies to help support the medium’s cause to provide journalistic skill training to the country’s unemployed youth population.
According to Fatoumatta Balajo, she was summoned for two hours meeting on Monday, where she was questioned by her boss Pa Ousman Joof on her recent coverage on the Mayor.
“I was asked questions relating to my coverage. Pa Ousman Joof said I haven’t stick to the questions that I was asked to ask during my vox pox. I was given six or seven questions to ask, but I decided to ask my own questions during the coverage. Pa Ousman wasn’t happy that I raised the Freedom Newspaper coverage on the Mayor’s past drug conviction in Germany, and the paper’s reportage that the Mayor had accused a German prison chief of rape. He also queried my sharing of the Freedom Newspaper stories on the Mayor’s drug case in Germany on our chat forum,” she said.
Ms. Balajo was a former registered member of the opposition United Democratic party (UDP). She had renounced her membership with the UDP. She is now an independent.
She said she had campaigned for Mayor Lowe during the 2018 Mayoral elections.
As a journalist, she said, she owes it to her viewers and readers to report issues fairly and objectively.
“I harbor no grudges against the Mayor. I was just doing my job as a journalist. The Gambia Talents has nothing to do, but to censor me. I am a victim of censorship. The Gambia Talents only cared about the money it is receiving from Mayor Lowe,” she alleged.
Ms. Balajo has accused Mayor Lowe of not getting along with her staff. She interviewed one of the BCC Councilors Tunko Jammeh. She said the Mayor and Tunko are not in good terms. Tunko, she said, had been side-lined by the Mayor. He hasn’t included in the council’s overseas travels since the Mayor came to office.
She also alleged that the Mayor has been traveling with non-Council staff to China and other part of the world. She said the delegation who traveled to China were paid D10,000 dalasis each.
She said she also raised the issue of the Banjul City Council staff not being paid salaries during her vox pox.
Reacting to Ms. Balajo’s allegations, Pa Ousman Joof, the proprietor of The Gambian Talents Promotion company said Ms. Balajo wasn’t fired.
“She was not fired. She quits voluntarily on her own. She has violated our editorial policy. She was assigned to ask six or seven questions during her vox pox, but she decided to ask her own questions. That was not what she was assigned to do. We have an editorial policy here and everyone is required to abide it,” Joof told me in a Facebook messenger interview.
“The additional questions she threaded on, were not part of her assignment. I had a two hours conversation with her today. During my investigations, I discovered that her vox pox was prearranged, it was staged of that sort. She had called the likes of Tunko to schedule them for an interview while she was on her way to Banjul to cover the vox pox. She even tried to lure Ebou Faye, the former Banjul Mayoral candidate into a subject topic regarding the Mayor, that was not part of her assignment, but Faye wasn’t keen at entertaining her question. He commented on the COVID-19 pandemic,” Joof added.
Joof said his company wouldn’t condone acts that would put them into legal liability and the Mayor’s alleged drug trafficking issue wasn’t something new.
“I interviewed the Mayor last year on the same topic during her visit to the US. She denied being involved in any drug trade or trafficking. Your paper Freedom Newspaper even reported our interview we had with the Mayor. In my view, that was stale news. In addition, she has also been sharing stories in our chatroom without following our guidelines. We had always advised them to write their own stories, but she never heeded,” said Joof.
According to Mr. Joof, Ms. Balajo, has been reporting to work late, and leaving the office before closing time.
“We had received so many complaints about Ms. Balajo. She has been absenting from work, coming to work late, and in some occasions leaving work before closing time. We had to limit her schedule to one day during the week. She wasn’t productive at all. She was also in constant violation of our policies,” he added.
Joof admitted that his media company had received D20,000 dalasis from Mayor Lowe’s Foundation.
“It is no secret. Yes, Mayor Lowe’s foundation had donated us D20,000 dalasis. We even televised it live on air. We are a young company that needs financial support. We have been soliciting donations. Many media houses are struggling to survive because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are not hiding the money we received from the Mayor,” he said.
When asked whether his action to receive financial donation from Mayor Lowe was ethical, Joof said the Mayor’s donation wouldn’t affect their editorial independence. He said one donating money to his media house, doesn’t mean in any way that The Gambia Talents would spare the donor from scrutiny.
Ms. Balajo also laments that interns are being required to clean The Gambia Talents office and toilet. She said one of the interns was asked to clean the toilet for five times on a given day.
“There is nothing wrong for interns to clean the office and the toilet. They are the ones occupying that office. In order to save our budget to cater for their transport allowances, we decided to ask them to help do the basic cleaning in the office. It is better to use the money we pay cleaners for their transport allowances. Keep in mind that our budget is tight,” Joof said.
During Joof’s meeting with Ms. Balajo, Fatou Samba, a senior staffer of The Gambian Talents told the meeting that Ms. Balajo, hasn’t been following the company’s rules and regulation. She recalled an instance, in which Balajo left the office for home, when she (Fatou Samba) had closed for the day on the day in question. She said Ms. Balajo, hasn’t been reporting to work on time and had been absenting herself from work.
Ms. Samba added that Ms. Balajo personally requested to be allowed to do the vox pox coverage in Banjul. But she never stick to the questions that she was assigned to ask, she said.
One reporter, who goes with the name Amie, said, she was in the car, when Fatoumatta Balajo phoned Councilor Tunko Jammeh and scheduled him for an interview. She said Ms. Balajo had also phoned one Mr. Bah, the Public Relation’s officer at the BCC during that trip to Banjul and requested for a similar interview with Bah.
Ms. Balajo said she was told by Bah that he was at a burial. Bah then scheduled her to meet him at his office on Monday for an interview.
She had earlier denied calling Tunko, when she was questioned by Pa Ousma Joof. She also told Joof that she forgot to inform him (Joof) that she had called Bah to request an interview with the BCC image maker.
Written By Pa Nderry M’Bai
Email: [email protected]