TAT commentary By: Alfsoninke
Our focus is on what we have observed after monitoring the conduct of the candidates and the media during the campaigning for the 2023 local government elections.
We refer to how GRTS has been covering and presenting as “news” items the reports it produced on the NPP campaign nationwide in the 2023 local government elections.
We saw how GRTS covered the 2016 presidential election contested by President Yahya Jammeh and Adama Barrow, the coalition flag-bearer.
We were right here and monitored and witnessed the candidates campaigning and how GRTS ensured yet again that the incumbent, President Barrow, enjoyed the advantages of incumbency.
We saw how during the 2021 presidential election campaign, GRTS was one state institution that helped him so that when the results were announced, the electoral commission, IEC, declared that Barrow had won big.
The EU election observers captured the role of GRTS in making this happen in their final report.
The “state broadcaster” got a dishonorable mention after it was named and shamed by this observer among those who did not play by the rules as expected, going by the country’s election laws, the codes of conduct produced for candidates under the auspices of IDEA, and the Inter-party Committee, among others.
We have heard the IEC clearly announce to candidates being nominated that not complying with the codes (including their party and supporters) would be grounds for disqualification.
But it never happened, even though the rules were flouted openly, especially by and through the media.
We also recall how the private QTV television received negative publicity for being perceived as not engaging in fair and balanced coverage of the 2021 presidential election.
The private tv station has since learned lessons and amended its ways, as seen with its coverage and programming on the legislative and now local government elections. These have been commendable and second to none regarding professional conduct.
In addition to the existing media regulations and reminding practitioners of the guidelines on media coverage of elections – see the many workshops held for that purpose – usually, the IEC would have guidelines for media behavior as part of the media accreditation process.
The IEC would also take charge of the public media, particularly GRTS’s allocation of airtime, and monitor its coverage and programming relating to elections to ensure that it is fair and balanced.
Yet it is evident that there are loopholes to be closed when you see how GRTS covers and presents “news” and its programs for the consumption of the electorate.
Another aspect is using civil servants/ public servants to help with politicking/campaigning. One expected this practice to be eliminated under the new dispensation, but that is different. Thus our assertion that Old Habits Die Hard!
For example, we see the DDG of GRTS abandon his desk/office for days to be of service to the NPP party leader as an interpreter; we see senior officers/civil and public servants/officers, including the regional governors, following the president and attending NPP campaign rallies.
It was the same thing happening under Yahya Jammeh and even before him!
Again, for example, we saw and heard the governor West Coast Region attend the nomination of the NPP candidate and then tell reporters that the NPP candidate will win.
We saw and heard the GRTS “news” item about women gathered at the governor’s office in Brikama, where my sister Fatou Sagnia Kinteh told them that the government had provided funding to women to the tune of D30 million and asked them to vote for the NPP candidate.
It was expected that all these practices bordering on abuse of incumbency – as witnessed under Yahya Jammeh and Jawara – would become a thing of the past. However, Old Habits Die Hard!
We wait and see if the election observers, local and international, will capture these anomalies in their reports.
The outcome of this 20th May 2023 local government election for mayor and council chairperson will be known within 24 to 48 hours.
However, we do know before the results are announced that money, the media, and abuse of incumbency would have played their part in influencing who gets declared as the winner and who gets defeated.
Reforms in the Gambia relate to the security sector, electoral laws, campaigning, public media operations, etc.
These are all supposed to be work in progress, and all that is required is political will and commitment to the national interest from all stakeholders to achieve the desired outcomes.
And, as is the case everywhere, it is the duty of the sitting government to facilitate and speedily implement such reforms wherever and whenever they are needed to ensure progress in our new democratic dispensation.
Indeed, after our experiences under Jawara caused the Yahya Jammeh-led interruption of the democratic process, patriotic, selfless, and visionary leadership at all levels is now required to steer the ship of state in a way that prevents and avoids another shipwreck.