By Alieu Famara Sagnia, TAT Consulting Editor
Sixty years of broadcasting is definitely worth commemorating, and certainly Badou Lowe and his colonial-era colleagues deserve to be fittingly celebrated for being the pioneers of public broadcasting in our comparatively young nation.
However, 60 years of Radio Gambia is more than the focus on the genesis. Indeed, a lot of other trailblazers followed, among them the directors of the department of Information Services, Dr Lamin Mbaye and Mr Swaebou Conateh who was the head of department when I joined in January 1979.
I understand that other members of staff who left before I arrived included Mr Nana Grey-Johnson former Information minister, Mr Kabirr Faal and Mam Sait Ceesay former Press Officer at State House and currently with The Standard newspaper.
I recall that other senior staff were the late MD Njie, late AA Njie, Mrs Sukai Mbye my first mentor, late Arthur Thomas from whom I took over as the information officer in-charge at our provincial station in Farafenni North Bank Division (now Region), Mr Chernor Jallow who was in CRD (now CRR) and who handed over to Mr Antou Faal, and who would subsequently be my supervisor at headquarters until he retired.
I joined the department with Antou Faal, a colleague who was posted to Janjanbureh CRD when I was sent to Farafenni and then Basse, where I replaced Wally Ndure as the Information officer in URD (now URR).
My predecessors and colleagues at The Gambia News Bulletin office, among others, included Ousman Ceesay, Ahmed Carayol, Wally Ndure; also Mrs Mariam Tambedou and her staff whose office for many years prepared the public notices/announcements/
advertisements aired over Radio Gambia.
After all Radio Gambia was a section of the larger department the duties of many of whose staff included working with and for Radio Gambia.
Thus a commemorative programme of activities to mark the event should include, among others, interviews with retired staff as part of a broader narrative that truly captures the history of the institution, and helps enrich the national archives.
At a personal level, I recall that soon after joining the department in January 1979, I participated in a news writing training course held at Mile 7.
I attended the course with Bora Mboge and others whose names I cannot recall now. I believe our lecturers/trainers included Foday Baldeh (then a teacher?) a lawyer, and senior staff of the department including the late Musa Manneh, who was at the time the head of the news room at Radio Gambia.
Many of our colleagues still with the public media have been through Radio Gambia, among them the present GRTS DG and DDG messrs Malick Jeng and Abdoulie Gassama respectively.
Malick and Gassama were together at Radio Gambia then – just as now with Gassama working under Malick – for many years; and both of them worked under Aji Lala Hydara who was the head of the newsroom for several years.
Now Aji Lala Hydara deserves special mention as one person whose diligence and sacrifices over decades are unparalleled among her contemporaries at Radio Gambia.
Also worthy of commendation is the late Mrs Sabel Badjan-Jagne – a pioneer of the French news broadcasts at Radio Gambia – who retired as the head of the news room at Radio Gambia. I have a photo of Sabel interviewing President Leopold Sedar Senghore at Banjul international airport when Senghore visited The Gambia.
These and others – including Malick Jeng, Abdoulie Gassama, Amadou Scattered Janneh former Information minister, the rights activist Madi Jobarteh, Ebrima Sankareh the Government Spokesman, were at one time among the staff at the newsroom.
They were the people who labored as the reporters land editors (working diligently behind the scenes) to put together the news they generate plus the news items from colleagues at the head office in Banjul and in the provinces for the daily newscast.
It is that news they toiled to produce which the announcers – the people who become famous because the public got familiar with their voices and names (which is normal and is the case with every tv/radio station in every country worldwide) – go on air to broadcast to the nation.
Again, at a personal level, I recall being a reporter in Banjul and in the provinces, and my reports will be broadcast as news items over Radio Gambia regularly.
In fact, since I joined the department in 1979 and throughout my stay as Information Officer in the provinces – Farafenni, Basse and Mansakonko – I covered every meet-the-farmers your. Then there was a year when I was assigned to lead the team covering the tour of President Jawara, when I provided also the news reports aired by Radio Gambia.
This was because I was a staff of the department – comprising The Gambia News Bulletin section and Film Production Unit both located in Banjul, and Radio Gambia located at Mile 7 Bakau.
The head office of the department was located at the Education Ministry building at Bedford Place in Banjul, where the director had his office.
I joined the department as a Trainee Information Assistant (cub reporter) and worked at the Gambia News Bulletin section in Banjul.
The news staff/reporters were based at the Bedford Place headquarters in Banjul, from where their news reports were processed and then sent to Radio Gambia to be included in the daily newscasts.
These reports will also be suitably edited for publication in the state-owned newspaper called The Gambia News Bulletin. Thus this was how reporters based in Banjul and the provinces worked with and for Radio Gambia.
And, my work with Radio Gambia had fine and not so fine moments. For instance, there was this expensive mistake I made as a reporter for Radio Gambia.
On one occasion, I covered the Budget session of the House of Representatives (now National Assembly) and reported that the House passed the Budget, and this was broadcast to the world.
It emerged the next day that this was not correct, since what happened was that MPs had merely approved the Estimates.
This was different from passing the Budget, since it was a stage prior to the convening of the House for delivery of the Budget Speech by the Minister of Finance.
This is when the Budget Bill – called the Appropriation Bill – is tabled/presented to be debated on and passed later by the parliamentarians. And it is at the conclusion of this stage when one could report that the Budget has been passed.
I had jumped the gun when I erroneously reported a stage sooner the passing of the national Budget for that year. Indeed, that this was a news item carried by Radio Gambia was an embarrassing blunder, for which I got a query letter from the director at the time.
In hindsight, I now know that even though I authored the blunder, I was not entirely to blame for the publication. For in the newsroom operation – in all news media houses – you have layers through which the news is handled before it gets broadcast/published.
Thus if my news editor was alert and had been following the Budget session – as should have been the case – then my mistake would have been spotted and the item would not get broadcast.
So I got the query letter, but the news editor at Radio Gambia at the time was also to blame for the error; which was committed because I was new on the job; a novice.
Well, I learned my lesson from the deflating experience; and subsequently became more careful in my reporting assignments.
One thing I did consequently was to familiarize myself with government procedures, and institutional processes through digesting the contents of the Constitution, Standing Orders, the Budget Speech, Gazette and similar public documents.
Which helped me a lot to become a more knowledgeable and competent reporter for the public media, and in doing my work as a government information officer.
Among the memorable moments of my early career was when I was assigned to cover the Vice President at the time, Mr Bakary Darbo.
He went on a tour of the Jokadou district to talk to the people, after the sacking from the Cabinet of Dr Momodou Manneh then the Minister of Economic Planning and Industrial Development.
My news report was broadcast by Radio Gambia and published by The Gambia News Bulletin, and apparently captured well the essence of the VP’s message on the tour.
He went on the tour to convey the message that the government was against the politics of insults, and to condemn the behavior of the said minister, who if I recall correctly had used undiplomatic language in attacking the opposition.
The message got across clearly to the nation, and the government loved my report so much that the PPP party secretariat at Leman Street in Banjul and party’s organ, The Gambia Times newspaper, made my news report into a poster. Definitely, this was one exhilarating and morale boosting moment in my early career as a journalist!
Also, I recall briefly doing the press review/ review of newspapers program for/at Radio Gambia, and would compile and broadcast the contents of the newspapers such as Foroyaa, Citizen newspaper and other tabloids published at the time.
This did not continue as I could not get over mike/mic fright, suffered from frequent bouts of being inarticulate and also realized early that I lacked the ideal broadcaster’s tongue – thus was not cut out for broadcasting.
Moving on and to conclude on a lighter note; in his statement delivered at the launching of the celebration on June 25, the DG Malick Jeng made reference to the other occupants who live and share the Mile 7 premises with the staff.
I recall boarding our office vehicle one day and arriving at the gate at Radio Gambia, where I saw displayed a few pythons, which the soldiers on guard there had shot.
Later, I heard from someone that it was not necessary to kill the pythons; that usually the Wildlife officers when informed would come over, pick the reptiles and take them away to be released into the wild somewhere.
Now I was seated in the vehicle, but was almost fainting with fright at the unfamiliar sight – which staff at Mile 7 I was told were used to. It was said that pythons are replete in the area, including at the other Mile 7 residences and the Bakau Women’s Garden.
I believe I have heard stories of Radio Gambia staff encounters with reptiles in the wash room, offices or the studio. Perhaps those who worked at Mile 7 can share such stories, if they have them.
Happy Diamond Jubilee Radio Gambia!