Sidi Sanneh 

We drew a lot of flack for our December, 16th, 2016 blog post entitled “The online press must also transition”, especially from proprietors of the media platforms, that prompted by the unexpected defeat of the 22-year dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh by a political newcomer named Adama Barrow.

We postulated, then, that since most of the Gambian online press, at least, its proliferation and popularity, was in reaction to the brutality of the Jammeh regime and its attendant muzzling of the local press, realignment of the mission of the online press was inevitable as the next logical step.  In fact, we appropriately couched the choices facing the online press in business terms because they are businesses that rely on advertising revenue from Google and local advertisers.

These media outlets shared the following in common (i) they all served as platforms, outside the reaches of the arms of the dictatorship, for political activism in an otherwise hostile press environment and (ii) they were all foreign-based and almost exclusively operated by Gambian exiles.  With a laser-focused Jammeh agenda, their programming reflected their primary mission of defeating the dictator.  The defeat of Jammeh at the polls and the ushering in of a Barrow-led transition government led us to further argue that the new political dispensation will force the proprietors and operators of the online press to revisit, with a view to, revamping their business models and programming models that will focus more of hard news, educational and entertainment.

The rationale for a change in focus and programming was based on the need to turn a new page – away from the temptation of starting to focus on, and the bashing of the incoming transitional government of Adama Barrow “that will be trying to dig the country out of the hole dug by Jammeh…” and into addressing obstacles to a coherent public policy that the interim government is expected to face.  Although Barrow failed in this mission, the need for a programming that will provide the intellectual content and impetus to help find solutions to a myriad of problems created by the 22-year dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh exists and urgent as ever.   

In spite of stating that “the new business model does not preclude investigative reporting designed to keep any government – including the Barrow government – honest and as corruption-free as realistically feasible”, the blog post drew the ire of critics, especially proprietors of online press who saw it as a feeble attempt at interfering in the freedom of the press at best, and at worst an attempt at advocating their outright closure.  Needless to say, neither was the intent of the December, 2016 blog post.

Fast forward to December, 2018 – we are witnessing precisely what we’ve predicted at the time.  The commencement of the evolutionary cycle has commenced with the online press adjusting to the new political realities in the Gambia that will determine the viability of very online news outlet.  In response to demand, program content for the different audiences carved out of the realigned Jammeh-era audiences is now undergoing profound transformation, led by the new Banjul-based entrants into the media market dominated by government and state-owned-enterprises (SOE) and a few private sector firms.

The influence of government in apportioning the media market in exchange for overt or tacit support of its programs is beginning to be felt in the form of government/SOE advertisement and representational contracts, preferential treatment and other fringe benefits accorded to the most favored outlets.  Because of distortions in the media market, resulting from government’s influential role in who gets government contracts, the most favored media outlets who are seen to be more in support of the government will thrive at the expense of those who are viewed as ‘opposing’ the government.

Therefore, online media outlets that can successfully adapt to the highly partisan political environment by being closely aligned to the government will survive an equally partisan political media market environment.  As we say, in these parts, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.  Those who fail to fall in line by toeing the official line will either be driven out of business or face program interruption and/or censorship as evidenced by the recent spat of cancellations of television interview programs deemed critical of the government and thus ill-suited for public consumption. 

Access the Dec. 16th, 2016 blog post here: “The online press must also transition”

Sidi Sanneh’s Blog