By Muhammed S. Bah
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) launched a report on review of Gambia media laws on Monday 29 October 2018. According to Saikou Jammeh the chairman of the event said the aim of this review of media laws is geared towards promoting the advocacy for an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression and of the press. He added that the report examines the extent to which the 1997 constitution of the Gambia, International Instruments and local statues, which he said particularly, affects the enjoyment of the right of the media to operate in a free and safe environment.
Sheriff Bojang Jnr, President of the GPU on his welcoming statement, underscored the significance of the occasion, adding that “The significant is broader today than anytime, because we transitioning, and every sector as well is transitioning”.
The 21 page document is containing information such as Media and 1997 constitution, The Gambia Obligation under international Law, media Law and statute law, Way forward, excerpts from Supreme Court ruling among other information.
The GPU president said there are still laws, that need to be fight against and that his institution will ensuring that they involve all stakeholders to ensuring that there is conducive environment in the country.
Mr. Bojang also laid emphasis on the importance of having a self-regulatory body, citing the importance of the existence of a media commission. The Press Union president also said that the GPU will still continue with the dialogue with the relevant authorities’ and stakeholders in ensuring the Freedom of press and the media.
He also urged media practitioners to be conversant with the report.
John Njie Chairman of TANGO on his part said despite the repeal of some media laws, there are still a host of laws that are impeding freedom of expression and the press.
“it was wise to share the report with everybody, which will be more effective than to just put them in books and pass them to the authorities” He remarked.
Mr. Njie further discloses TANGO’s commitment towards promoting Freedom of expression and Press Freedom. He also urged Media practitioners to allow there political affiliation to make them bias in the execution of their duties.
Sam Sarr Managing Editor Foroyaa Newspaper on his part said, the development is significant on GPU in ensuring there are proper media laws.
Mr. Sarr cited that “Democracy cannot thrive without the media”, Adding that without the laws that create conducive environment then such democracy is meaningless.
Mr. Sarr further emphasizing of the importance of democracy and the media, he cited the example of how Fish Lives in the water. He noted that the media is very key in holding government accountable to the people. Dilating on the role of the media he further said that it is responsible to hold public debate in promoting divergent and dissenting view. He said that without a free media these roles cannot exist.
Mr. Sarr noted that GPU has done not a little Job, but they have involve stakeholders during the drafting of this report, which Mr. sarr said he think was the best approach. He said with the laws in place, the media practice can be effective and efficient.
He also cited the importance of Freedom of Information law, which he said can enable Journalist and Citizens to compel Government officials to divulge in to information needed.
On his part the Minister of Justice said the promotion of an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression and the permissive political environment for the media to operate in a free and safe environment has been a priority objective of the new Government of The Gambia.
“As far back as March 2017, when I introduced the Ministry of Justice’s transitional strategic plan for the post dictatorship era”, Adding that, “we had recognized the importance that must be attached to the right to freedom of expression, and made it a key policy objective”
The Justice Minster said the Gambian media has no better friends in this country than they have in this Government.
In clarifying on his recent pronouncement on false information that triggered pubic comments the Minister said that “ My pronouncement that the country still has applicable laws to deter irresponsible conduct was only meant to serve as a reminder to those who are determined to deliberately spread lies for the promotion of personal agendas at the expense of our fragile peace and stability”.
He added that the comments should have been seen in that context alone.
He added that It was not a threat against anyone, and certainly not against the media, adding that that it has contributed so much to bringing about this change in the country and will continue to play a huge role in the democratization process.
However, he said the fact also remains that sometimes “we will disagree on fundamental issues of governance”.
He said “Divergent views are an intrinsic part of democracy. It is the essence of the notion of freedom of expression”.
He noted that “At times we will view things differently based on our different roles, responsibilities and vantage points even though our common objective remains the same”.
He said the Government believes the exercise of the right to freedom of expression must necessarily carry with it the responsibility to disseminate facts and truth and not lies and falsehood, especially when they have potentially adverse consequences for all of us in this country. “This is a position we have consistently taken and also argued before the Supreme Court in respect of Section 181A of the Criminal Code regarding the publication of false news”.
In her inaugural Statement Amie Njie Permanent Secretary Ministry of Information Communication and Technology one-half of the Minister, expressed Gratitude to the GPU to partake in what she referred to as “laudable initiative”.
Mrs. Njie said, the is timely and strategic, because it intends to help enhance the right to freedom of speech and expression which includes free and independent of the media guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia.
She said that the MOICI has been committed to review draconian laws, through an established committee that includes, the Civil Society Organizations, media related entities, National Assembly, Other Oversight and Regulatory agencies, government officials and consultants.
According to the Permanent Secretary to look into draconian media laws and make recommendation where necessary to MOICI.
“The report of the media Law Review Committee has been submitted to MOICI, and the Ministry of Justice and consultations are ongoing between the two to ensure the endorsement of the recommendations proffered in the report by cabinet” she disclosed.
The occasion was held at a Local Hotel in Kololi, graced by Students and Lecturers from the University of the Gambia, Students and Lecturers from the Media Academy, for Journalism and Communication, Members of the Press, Senior Government Officials, GPU secretariat and Executive, Representatives from Non-Governmental Organisations, Human Right Activists, among others.