The three month certificate course for seventeen reporters of Foroyaa Newspaper, conducted by Gambia Press Union-School of Journalism was officially launched on Friday, 14 April. The official opening of the programme was held at the Press Union headquarters in Bakau. The course is part of the European Union's media houses' capacity building project through UNESCO.
It has the objective of improving the output of the journalists in their work place. The course begun since March with interactive contributions from the beneficiaries.
Speaking at the official opening, Namori Trawally, the Vice President of Gambia Press Union said the European Union has been supportive of the union which includes the media houses' capacity building programmes. He said the training is important as it came at the right time for the media houses as the country is in a transition period.
"We will put all hands on deck to make sure what we were calling or planning for, for the past 2 to 3 decades is actualized. I urge you all to be punctual, listen to your trainers because you have capable personalities before you. We are very grateful to the EU through UNESCO for facilitating this kind of programmes and we are hopeful that this training will have successful result on the Gambian media," he said.
Samuel Sarr, Foroyaa Newspaper's managing editor expressed appreciation for the start of such a capacity building programme for his journalists saying the training will increase the output of the reporters. He said when this opportunity came he had to make best use of it to capacitate his reporters for greater efficiency in their works.
"I have been teaching at the GPU School of Journalism, I know the quality of their output and I decided that our reporters should be trained at no other place other than the GPU School of Journalism. Now, teaching requires not only the efforts and competence of the teachers, it also requires the efforts of the one who is learning. And I will urge all of you to take this course seriously," advised the veteran journalist.
He stressed that punctuality and seriousness will not be compromised while emphasisng that students must come on time and must avoid any form of distraction during the learning sessions. He also urged for tolerance to critiques and opposing views from fellow students during learning hours which he said is a tool for any professional journalist.
"You have competent trainers and you must make the best use of that opportunity. I will emphasise and I mean it that I do take this training seriously and the certificate as well. I am not willing to take any journalist that is not certificated anymore. So if you go through the course and you fail I think you will have a problem because you will not be treated in the same manner as those who have certificates and I am sorry about that. So that means you must take this course seriously. Because you are not paying any fee does not mean you should be slack about it. Take it seriously and you will be successful at the end of the day," urged Sam Sarr.
Sarr added that the Gambia is in an era where there is free press or at least a commitment to free press which calls for professional journalists who will be capable and understand issues, having the capacity to hold public officials and public figures to account without giving them chance to get away without clarification.
He said at the end of the day they should master the skills of reporting and as journalists seeking for the truth and they should master and apply ethical principles to the letter so that whatever articles are published are truthful, in good faith and in the public interest.
Mr Sarr thanked the Gambia Press Union for agreeing to start the programme even before matters were finalized with UNESCO.
The Managing Editor told this reporter that two other trainings have been provided for under the EU capacity building project. The chief Accounting officer is well advanced in his six month training course in accountancy with a view to improving the financial management of Foroyaa. There is also a training package for two printers. All these he said form part of the EU capacity building project for the media.
He concluded by informing that Foroyaa already has a plan to set up an FM radio station, the details of which are being worked out. "So this training is also important because what you are learning is significant as we want to go multi-media with an online radio. In short the training the school of journalism is providing will meet our training needs."
Sang Mendy, director of GPU School of Journalism expressed gratitude for his institution to be given the opportunity to train Foroyaa reporters in order to become better media practitioners. He said for the fact that Foroyaa has chosen GPU-SJ for a 3 months intensive training, its reporters are entitled to 4 hours session per day (2 days in a week) which is equivalent to the number of credit hours that the school's certificate programme is offering.
On the mode of learning, Sang said "what we do here is to share experience, we ask you to listen and then ask you to read the paper and recreate your own news. We ask you to listen to an audio and you create your own news and we review and evaluate it together. We spot out the mistakes and strengths of what we produce and in the end we will all be on the same level."
"We understand the concept on the way we train because journalism is a hands-on job. A hands-on job cannot be taught theoretically; it has to be practical based and that is why all the things we have been doing since day one has been practical. There will be some assignments which will be marked and you will have some tests both theory and practical," he said.
Mendy said the journalism students will not just be doing print aspect of journalism but also radio component.
Meanwhile, Papa Njie, EU project coordinator at UNESCO said young people particularly journalists are the present and the future whose role in the democratization process of the Gambia is key. He said young people are the ones in charge of the process and they should not take that lightly.
"You are the people who must move the Gambia forward, you are the voice of the voiceless, ears of the earless and eyes of the blind. Therefore your job is very important, unfortunately it is not well paid but sometimes money is not what you consider to do certain things," he said.
Njie however called for specialization of journalists in various areas for better delivery as they will become masters of such fields. He said in order to become professionals; journalists should consider specialization in certain areas so that they can be specialists. He said lack of journalists' specialization sometimes hinder their performances during interviews or at press conferences as they do not understand certain issues which are very important to know and raise.
"A journalist will perform better on human rights if he or she specializes on it likewise gender and foreign policy. Such journalist will ask right questions always. Sometimes I feel embarrass when journalists ask certain questions at some events and it will be clear to one that such journalist do not understand the subject matter," he pointed out.
He said training is one important thing that can address such problems while urging journalists to make best use of it and apply it outside in order to become better journalists. He assured that the EU and the UNESCO will continue to assist journalists in such capacity building programmes for better service delivery.
Muhammed S. Bah, a reporter at Foroyaa Newspaper who is benefitting from the training thanked the EU through UNESCO for intervening timely to build their journalism capacity. He assured that they will take the 3 months course seriously.
The event was chaired by Saikou Jammeh, the Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union.
Amie Sanneh, Foroyaa sub editor also expressed appreciation for her institution to benefit from such training which according to her will undoubtedly improve the output of the reporters. She assured that they will take the training seriously. She thanked the EU through UNESCO for considering the improvement in journalism in the Gambia while thanking the Gambia Press Union for undertaking the training of her staff.