By Momodou Jarju
A close look at the new executive of Young Journalists Association of The Gambia (YJAG) doesn’t need telling that the people posed for the picture are in their ebullient selves. With their jaunty faces brimming with delight, the eight-member-team comprising three females and five males has a huge tasks shrugged on their shoulders.
They are the fifth executive since the creation of the association in 2007, with a three-year-mandate on their badges to execute their action plans centered on promoting and protecting the welfare of young journalists in Gambia and also proffer training and mentoring initiatives for its members.
The new president, Yankuba Jallow, also known as Stay Balance, and his led executive has to overcome a plethora of challenges they would face in a bid to place the journalists’ pressure group in a firm footing to accomplish the aims and aspirations of its members.
Stay Balance is a staunch critic of the main journalists’ union- GPU. Time without number he has challenged the union on various issues, ranging from the working conditions of journalists and keeping the promises he claimed the union made but failed to live up to expectations.
He now has a show to run, with all eyes on him, leading an association like that of journalists to the pinnacle of success is the benchmark. Scoring failure will have him receive lashes from critics for being one.
In fact, he agreed that if at the end of the third year he has nothing to show as achievement, he “will receive what you call lashes.”
“The criticism that I would receive would be a motivation for me, it would never distract me even one second,” he added.
He also admitted of feeling the heat as he took the new position. But he was quick to add that it was expected as a leader and he was conscious of the realities from outside and within.
Quizzed what he meant by the realities he was conscious about, Stay Balance said: “The realities inside is the weakness of YJAG and the struggling that is waiting for me if I come in. but for the outside are the people who would be looking up to you. Those who I was criticizing and those who would also want to see what leadership qualities I have.”
Stay Balance said he has a very strong team committed to the success and prosperity of young journalists in the country. Thus, he is covered.
Financial constraint is a top challenge the new executive has to confront. Though the previous executive has left some thousands of dalasi for them, they need fat funds to fulfill their action plan for the next three years.
Since the young association was founded, it is yet to have a secretariat to house its executive and members. This is one aspect Stay Balance led executive intends to execute.
Stay Balance said a secretariat is part of their plan but not in their one-year-plan. He cited weak structures within YJAG as a challenge they intend to address forthwith. He said they plan to give the association a fresh start and a proper foundation then think about other things.
“We believe we are likely to have an office Insha’Allah in our second year, even if it would be a single office, we will try that. We can even have it this year; we are not ruling it out, because if we start work, we are starting it with speed and that speed is speed to success,” he said.
First Impression, High Expectations
Banna Sabally is among the young promising journalists in the country working with West Coast Radio. A product of Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC) Sabally is impressed with the cohort of the new executive who are as young as the name of the association.
Already, she observed that a free flow of information sharing is one noticeable trait the new executive seems to master. This wasn’t a wont of the former executive, she opined.
“For a start, for the fact that these people have started engaging us, sending messages into WhatsApp groups and telling us what they are doing, I think that is a good start,” she said.
“An example was when they had a training with one of the high schools press club, after the training, they sent pictures and what the training was all about. So this is a very good thing.”
Emerging journalist and YJAG member, Muhammeh Kandeh, is also impressed with the manner the new executive kick started its mandate.
Kandeh, who recently handed over the president portfolio of the Gambia College Press Club to his successor, said for the fact that they have started engaging press clubs in secondary schools to train them on basic journalism tells a lot.
The Gambia College graduate also has high expectations that the new executive will deliver. He believed that before the end of their mandate “so many changes” would take place.
However, Sabally hoped that the free flow of information sharing continues and ‘not to just start and stop.’ She further said even the new executive is cognizant of the fact that a lot is expected from them.
Nonetheless, she said organizing training should be their paramount initiative, saying young journalists should be trained so that they can know more about the profession.
“It is good to become a journalist but then if you are a journalist without having the adequate know-how of the profession is like going to a war without a weapon,” she said.
Ms. Sabally said the association should lobby for support to get most young journalists trained and help them understand contract agreement. She said they should ensure young journalists know that if they are working for a particular institution, they ought to be given a contract which when appended by both parties, an agreement exist thereof.
“There are lots of young journalists working for media houses, they have been there for decades but they have never been given contract. They don’t know whether the media house should have given them a contract to sign to know this is the fix thing, this is what you should pay me etc.” she said.
Journalist Sabally said many journalists are working in media houses and are being exploited but they don’t know it is exploitation.
This is an opinion Muhammed Kandeh upholds. He said young journalists’ situation in the country is sympathetic because they are exploited. This is one challenge he opined YJAG needs to address.
Kandeh argued that majority of the journalists you find in the field are young who have undergone some journalism training which was limited in the past. Sadly, he said the wages of young journalists are diminutive, something YJAG ought to fight to change the narrative.
Sabally and Kandehs’ assertion doesn’t shy away from the truth. Reports of media workers not getting paid for months is often whispered among colleagues in the media.
In fact, a recent research has confirmed this unfortunate wont. Online media outlet The Chronicle published the research conducted in August last year by an economic researcher, Mark Spilsbury.
Spilsbury’s survey themed on the pay and working conditions of Gambian journalists “found that the average monthly salary is GMD 3,750, though there are cases of substantial spread beyond the average payment.”
Ms. Sabally said it is going to be a difficult journey for the new executive. This includes facing media chiefs who may not succumb to their demands.
“They would come across media owners who wouldn’t agree to what they come with,” she said.
She however advised them not to relent with the challenges they would come by, but engage the media chiefs often and the GPU to ensure their demands to help young journalists are attained.
Kandeh proffered similar sentiments: “I think when they come together with the GPU and media owners and have a discussion with regard to the welfare of young journalists there would be room for improvement.”
Both budding journalists’ thoughts have already been executed by the GPU. A document that outlined the wages and or salaries for media personnel dubbed the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has been drafted and validated by members of the union. The onus now lies on the implementation which perhaps YJAG can participate in that front.
Stay Balance led team is on standby. He said they are waiting for the document to be signed, which will become a legal tool, to push for its implementation. They would work with the GPU to accomplish this.
“YJAG is going to push GPU to ensure that all media chiefs sign the newly Collective Bargaining Agreement,” he said.
The president-elect said they are not going to be rebels, but partners especially to GPU- the umbrella body where they belong.
Ethical Reporting, Equality Challenge
Journalism has ethics actors follow to execute their work worldwide. The Gambia is no exception and journalist Sabally believes that ethical reporting ought to be promoted by YJAG to equip young journalists.
“Because you will see young journalists would get into the profession not knowing what the dos and don’ts are. So it is not about just picking any story, write about it, publish it, and not having regards for ethical issues,” she said.
Sabally also tasked the new executive to promote equality in the media houses and among young journalists in particular.
“Especially among female and male, because we wouldn’t want a female to get marriage and go for maternity leave only to come back and get sacked,” she said.
Sabally believed that young journalists are passionate and willing to stay in the profession, but because of the lack of motivation and appreciation from most of the media chiefs or owners towards them, most of them are on the verge of leaving or have left the profession.
“I call for better treatment for the young journalists in The Gambia because they deserve it. They are energetic, they love the profession and they love to stay,” she said.
Kandeh on the other hand said if young journalists are not motivated, the country might be deprived of good journalists who would rather look for other jobs that pay their services well.
“In order to maintain the standards of journalism and to maintain the standards of journalists that we have in this country, their plights need to be looked at and their wages need to be looked at,” he said.
He advised young journalists to continue upgrading themselves to also complement their outputs with the remuneration demand of the job market.
“I believe that they (young journalists) are playing a very pivotal role in the development of the country and they are striving very hard to see that the masses are given information and updating them on issues within and outside the country,” he said.
Stay balance said they are thinking the same, saying they are going to organize a “National Young Journalists Convergence.”
This was first organized in 2019 by the previous executive and the new executive intends to keep that legacy alive.
“Some of the media houses don’t do in-house training and as young journalists, is our duty if we want to promote the welfare of a person, capacity is part of welfare and this is very important,” he said. “In fact we have put timeline to everything.”
Membership Commitment Challenge
The out-going president of YJAG, Kebba Jeffang, made it clear that membership commitment has been a challenge and Stay Balance is cognizant of this fact.
In a telephone conversation, Jeffang told this medium that relying on members, especially on contributions of monthly dues, would be an uphill task because they have not been forthcoming on that aspect.
Jeffang’s views are evidence if you take the main union’s case for example. GPU has hundreds of members but the union receives dues mostly when congress creeps in. This is because only paid up members are allowed to vote and be voted during congress, thus, rush-accumulated-payments are made by the members.
However, Stay Balance has promised to change the status quo, pointing out that the strategies they are going to employ will lure young journalists into embracing the association.
He said as an executive, they have outlined their 2021 action plans and they would be up and running forthwith after the handing over which is yet to take place. The issue of membership participation would become history, he assured.
“Each media house we are going to have associations and those associations would have reps at YJAG- one or two. And then they would form what we called a general assembly of young journalists. So if that happens, we will be talking about issues of young journalists and the GPU would be crucial in this because we are an affiliate to GPU,” he explained.
Commenting on membership dues, Stay Balance said they would put in place a structure to ensure members’ contribution flow monthly. YJAG members pay D10 per month, amounting to 360 for three years.
Stay Balance hoped members’ dues would pay through deduction from their salaries which would be facilitated by YJAG reps. Another source of funding would come from writing program proposals to attract donors.
“We want to defeat this financial problem in one year, not even three years. In one year, that’s our target,” he said. “Because we know the task ahead is heavy on our heads.”