Senegal: journalism and political activism, a divisive trend

For some it is possible to combine journalism and politics, for others it is not. However, the Charter that governs the profession and the principle of objectivity are very clear in this regard.

Ouestafnews – Can combining journalism and political militancy guarantee respect for the ethics and honesty required for the exercise of the profession? In Senegal, more and more journalists are succumbing to the sirens of politics. A phenomenon that divides even among information professionals.

Journalists who are dedicated to politics. This is the phenomenon in vogue in Senegal. During the local elections of January 2022, as for the next legislative elections of July 2022, more and more media outlets assume the role of political activist without neglecting that of journalist. The trend has sparked a lively debate in public opinion and in the press.

The controversy surrounding the issue had such an echo that it prompted the Council for the Observance of the Standards of Ethics and Professional Conduct (Cored) to organize a panel among professionals on April 25, 2022. Is it possible to combine political militancy and journalism without questioning its independence and credibility? Isn’t there a clear conflict of interest?

Cored’s initiative began with the case of a political show host and host of the local language press review on (private) Sen TV, Ahmet Aïdara. The latter has built its success and popularity on its theatrical and outrageous “press review,” presented in a style and standards that defy all journalistic codes: restraint, balance, fairness, independence, impartiality, sanctity of fact, etc. They all looked and let him pass. In a country with an illiterate majority (+54% according to the latest official figures), salsa quickly established itself and the masses made the host their star.

Thanks to his reputation, Mr. Aïdara entered politics while continuing his work. Today he is elected mayor of the city of Guédiawaye (one of the five departments of the capital, Dakar), after the municipal elections of January 2022 in which he defeated the outgoing mayor, Aliou Sall, brother of President Macky Hall.

Still elected, and having understood the power of the media, the new mayor did not want to let go of “his press review.” The National Council for Audiovisual Regulation (CNRA), will then send a letter to his employer (the D-Media group, owner of Sen TV), to summon him to end his services. Unsuccessfully. It was then that a confrontation began and the CNRA suspended the SenTv signal for 72 hours to force the press group to “comply” with the laws. Cored, for an exceptional time, will align itself behind the CNRA’s decision on the basis of the provisions contained in the Senegal Journalists’ Charter, which in its article 15 establishes that the journalist must “avoid situations of conflict of interest or ‘appearance conflict of interest’.

In the same opinion, Cored, which has a “peer court” for journalists and media professionals, also asks the CNRA to go to the limit of its logic by prohibiting the appointment of politically engaged journalists for the management of service media. public.

The three main “public” media outlets (the newspaper Le Soleil, the Senegalese Press Agency and Senegalese Radio-Television) have almost always been controlled by sympathizers or active militants of the parties in power, through the presidency of the Republic. .

ethical question

Although the debate has taken on a larger dimension this time, the conversion of journalists into political activists is not new in Senegal. Abdou Latif Coulibaly, a former journalist who became a minister, secretary general of the government, had turned to politics by declaring his candidacy for the 2012 presidential elections. He ended up joining the coalition that brought Macky Sall to power . A presidential party activist, he was elected mayor in the 2014 municipal elections.

A Cored roundtable panelist, Mr. Coulibaly, who “resigned” from the journalistic profession to dedicate himself fully to his political commitment, acknowledges the impossibility, for him, of combining political commitment and journalism.

“It’s about everyone’s personal ethics and what they do with their work,” he says. Then he adds: “You are a journalist when you are in a newsroom. This is where journalism is done.”

For his part, Hamadou Tidiane Sy, director of the School of Journalism, Internet and Communication Professions (E-jicom)*, also a speaker on the Cored panel, gives a clearer opinion. Whether or not it is about personal ethics, the journalist must “avoid situations of conflict of interest.” Therefore, it is impossible for him to have the double hat of politician and journalist. According to him, the basic question that arises is that of the “credibility” of the journalist when he is dedicated to politics.

Mamadou Thior, president of Cored, for his part, insisted on the need for the CNRA to “take a closer look at the situations of the leaders of the public service media” politically involved in the ruling coalition. »

Other actors also find this double position of journalist-politician unacceptable. Elimane Kane, president of the think-tank Legs Africa, interviewed by Ouestaf News, thinks that “it is more ethical to stop acting as an information professional when one dedicates oneself to politics”.

As for the former director of the Center for the Study of Information Sciences and Technologies (Cesti), Mrs. Eugénie Rokhaya Aw, a speaker on the panel, has a different opinion. She recalls her own experience within the national newspaper, Sun, from where she had been fired for her political commitment, officially, “contrary to the editorial line of the organ”. Without stopping her career as a journalist, she continued her political action that had also landed her in prison at the time of the single party in Senegal, she recalls.

Ass Mademba Ndiaye, former general secretary of the Union of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal (Synpics), and moderator of the debate, said he was “outraged by the CNRA’s decision in relation to the Ahmet Aïdara case” because he considers that ” above all it is a question of freedom and a journalist can freely have political convictions”. However, he specifies “for reasons of honesty and objectivity, a journalist who is dedicated to politics should leave the newsroom.”

KAN-FD/md/hts

*In the interest of transparency, the Ouestaf News editorial team notes that Hamadou Tidiane Sy, a participant on the Cored panel and quoted in this article, is also the founder of Ouestaf News.

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