On the D40 million gov’t agenda promotion fund…

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Journalist Lamin Jahateh

By Lamin Jahateh

It is in times like this that you see the naivety, or rather, the gullibility of the supposedly informed Gambian. How can anyone au fait with the realities and peculiarities of the Gambian situation support the allocation of a whooping 40 million dalasi for the promotion of a non-existing agenda? Make it make sense, I need to learn!

While saying the government does not have an agenda sounds political, please I want to know what the agenda is. I am all in for learning the agenda. It makes a lot of sense to lay claim of a government agenda if the government, to a large extent, is based on a certain worldview, or philosophical underpinning, or has a certain value system. Lest I am misconstrued, in The Gambia the government of only one political party can claim such a title.

But that’s beside the point.

Here is why I think this D40 million agenda promotion fund is not just a misplaced priority, but also a whole-of-government approach to embezzlement of state resources for personal political gain of the president.

First of, The Gambia government never lacks publicity of its activities, assuming activities equal agenda. President Barrow used to hold periodic press conferences at the State House to talk about his activities and successes (i.e. the government’s agenda). Almost all media houses in The Gambia used to go there for coverage. The State House used to struggle to even accommodate all the journalists. All the articles that come out of that engagement are free promotion of government activities.

The Ministry of Information used to do similar press engagements. The turnout of journalists is no less than that of the presidency. Again all such articles that are clothed as news are promotion of the government activities.

Almost all the ministries and major agencies of the government have information officers who are redundant to only writing press releases and social media updates. Anything article that comes out of them to the media houses is given attention. All such publications are promotion of government activities.

All the senior government officials, especially the political appointees, have unhindered access to all the media houses in The Gambia, as far as I know. Whenever they appear in any show or grant any media interview, it is the government’s activities they promote. The journalists have decided to accommodate that.

The ever-ready spin doctor (that’s such a nice term I don’t want to use) is busy spewing falsehood and propaganda from one media house to the other, unchecked and unrestrained. Every press statement he makes is given headline attention on gratis. All to promote the government agenda.

All these mechanisms exist for the government to promote its agenda using the media for free. Tell me, what other agenda is the government promoting for 40 million dalasi in 12 months? (One of the media houses said the contract is for 12 months).

I did not even list the national radio, television, and newspaper all of which are instrumentalized by the government for propaganda on a daily basis.

Now to the media houses, the questions that beg for answers are – how are you going to execute the agenda promotion contract: Publishing propaganda as news? Disseminating government disinformation unchecked? Or suppress anything that does not look like the government agenda? It can work in any or all of these cases.

For clarity, I am all in for government support to the media in the form of subvention. Whereas subvention is a divisive topic among journalism scholars, I think the Gambian media badly needs some form of transparent and systematic government support. Apart from the economic realities as a justification, the government has been benefiting a lot of free services from all the media houses in The Gambia.

That aside.

Likening The Gambia government’s agenda promotion fund to the public outreach budget of the U.S. is the most disingenuous or dumb comparison I have seen so far. How many media houses does the United States government have? Where is its Ministry of Information? What form of content does the government of the United States pay for: is it propaganda for the sitting president or content that promotes the interest of the United States in totality? It baffles me that an intellectual of a certain pedigree doesn’t know that the U.S puts so much money into media publicity because it is fighting information warfare that is designed not only to promote its ideology but also to maintain its global hegemony by ‘programming’ people to see the U.S through a certain lense.

Let’s agree on one thing, this agenda promotion fund is a public relations disaster in itself.

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