BEING A KEYNOTE ADDRESS ON MEDIA AND COVID -19 CHALLENGES: THE GAMBIA EXPERIENCE BY LAMIN SANNEH, A MEDIA PRACTITIONER WITH KAIRA NYINING RADIO DELIVERED DURING THE ONLINE SUMMIT OF JOURNALISTS INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR MIGRATION (JIFORM) ON MAY 29, 2020.
Most journalists in the Gambia have limited knowledge about infectious diseases, including how they spread or how long it takes before an the symptoms of infection can be detected.
Unfortunately, many infectious diseases, particularly those that are new to us, bring much complexity and uncertainty. Infectious diseases often have incubation periods.
Cause initially symptoms that are not unique, and differ in how they are spread. This make its difficult for Gambian media personnel who are covering an outbreak to identify the health threat.
Those affected and how things unfold in the days and weeks ahead, many are yet to clearly understand.
For the Covid-19 outbreak is difficult for journalists Gambia to get access to government officials and public health workers for interviews. On one hand, journalists have many potential sources and places they can go for information, aseptically websites and university lecturers. On the other hand, we are likely to have great difficulty getting access to the critical sources.
Most journalists in Gambia are not working independently on their stories and this doesn’t help most of us to have exclusive engagement on Covid-19 with colleagues from different media outlets. Hence radio airtime is required to be bought as required by many radio policies and other media outlets. This discourages many media personnel.
Misinformation: With the proliferation of social media platforms and no policy on how people use them, it has given the many citizens the latitude to access unverified information ( sometimes fake news) and to spread it without much thought about the implications on the nation. Some of these information accessed and spread on social media are not verifiable.
Illiteracy: with a high percentage of illiteracy rate among the populace, it is virtually impossible to weigh the content of the information they are exposed to. These makes most people doubt official positions as mere conspiracy and they instead adopt positions that appeared to support their social and religious values.
Media Laws: it would be recalled that Gambia in the past regime under a dictor, Yahya Jammeh was a “hell for journalists” according to Human Rights Watch.
This reality was influenced by the two decades of brutality in which draconian media laws were used to maimed the press. Unfortunately, with the change of regime in December 2016, there was much optimism for change of this reality and as a result, several initiatives were commissioned including the establishment for the first of a national media commission but; access to information is still a major challenge faced by journalists because there is no bill to that effect including protection for whistle blowers.