On the Paradox of Self-Regulation: Letter to the Minister of Information
By: Momodou Sabally
I am not a fan of Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Joseph Stiglitz. In fact, in the clash of the titans between him and then IMF Research Chief, Kenneth Rogoff, I sided with Rogoff; but one thing Stiglitz said really resonated with me and I have since held it as a sacred natural truth. Stiglitz once asserted that the word “self-regulation” is an oxymoron. And that is certainly true.
So when I started seeing claims and lobbying from professional groups in our own country trying to get government to endorse their proposals, or even to pass bills, aimed at entrenching self-regulation, I cringed...
I do know that you are a career journalist and you would naturally be inclined
to support your brethren in the media fraternity but the business of self-regulation should never be accepted by our government. For very obvious reasons, backed by tangible evidence, self-regulation should not be entertained in our system. The recent case of the brazen attack on an innocent journalist by the current GPU President and the GPU’s uncharacteristic silence on this matter is a serious signal.
It is true that the media is a critical element of democracy and the protection and empowerment of media practitioners is of critical significance; but where elected bodies and individuals are subjected to independent external oversight in our governance system, I see no reason why another arm of the same national structure should be treated as a sacred cow and allowed to be referee and player at the same time.
Therefore, it is urgent that an independent body be set up for oversight of our media practitioners and the GPU’s overtures of self-regulation should be rejected in the interest of the public.
Our evolving democracy has had its ups and downs and the executive branch of government has (in the past) taken undue advantage of the media and other institutions due to the dominance handed over to them by our statutes but it is a fact that the conduct of some of these media personalities and institutions has also had adverse effects on other entities and persons weaker than the media behemoths in our state of affairs.
So while we labour to correct the errors of our past by empowering institutions like The Gambia Press Union, we must not make the mistake of rendering these institutions too powerful to the extent that they could become oppressors of the weak and meek.
Honourable Minister and my dear brother, beyond the potential effects of media malpractice on individuals and organisations, it is my conviction that the greatest threat to our new-found freedom and entrenched peace is the actions of some unregulated, untrained, misguided, ill-intentioned operators in our media space. We still have competent and prudent journalists in this country doing a good job for the common good; but when the floodgates of press freedom were flung open with the advent of the current dispensation, the media waters became muddied by some dangerous elements.
Daily we witness insults, incitement of violence and tribal acrimony in our media space and nothing is being done to control this. As if the Rwanda’s tragedy is not enough of a lesson, we sit and fiddle in our cosy zones while our precious Pax Gambiana is slowly but surely being poisoned with insidious cinders.
Lest the charge comes against me of speaking against press freedom, let me categorically state here that I am all for press freedom and a highly conducive environment for the efficient operation of our fourth estate. But that does not obviate the need for reasonable and effective oversight in the Business of our fourth estate. It is fitting to pick an import quote from a brilliant article by the current Secretary General of the GPU on the undesirable activities of some media outlets titled “The Gambia: Towards A One-Stop Media Regulator”: “Supporters of the press are reconsidering their position: well, I’m a believer of press freedom but how could they do that. Oh, no.”
The current Chief Justice of our country recently made a statement to the effect that
The Gambia is blessed with a unique opportunity hard to come by of in the evolution of many nations: The opportunity to change and virtually rewrite all our laws and transform our institutions of governance . If this opportunity must not be missed, or under-utilised, then we must not be infected by the bug of irrational exuberance by trying to overcompensate institutions that were negatively affected by our past to the extent of creating new Frankenstein’s monsters in our governance process.
In conclusion, Honourable Minister, I respectfully submit the foregoing premises with a view to re-ignite a national conversation on the relevant subject matter. I am hoping this dialogue is not muted but promoted. We must never lose sight of the fact that democracy and its institutions are not meant to be ends in themselves but vehicles towards the attainment of optimal human welfare and progress. Therefore it behooves us to be objective in our quest to hold one another to account in the interest of our common welfare.
In the service of our dear nation.
Former Presidential Affairs Minister and author, Momodou Sabally is the Former Director General of the state Broadcaster GRTS as well as Managing Director and Editor-In-Chief of the Observer Company, publishers of The Gambia’s erstwhile leading newspaper the Daily Observer.