By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s Media umbrella body, Gambia Press Union (GPU) has called on the country’s authorities to review and amend all draconian laws impeding Press Freedom. At the annual commemoration of World Press Freedom Day which occurred on 3rd May 2021, the Union revealed that “more than 15 incidents of physical assault on journalists and media professionals occurred [since 2017]. And all the attacks were perpetrated either by the police or politicians, including supporters of the president.”
The GPU is responsible for the welfare of Gambian journalists and has expressed serious concerns over the safety of journalists in dispatching their duties in the Gambia. Most disturbing is the point raised by the Union that “no serious investigation has been carried out [on the 15 attacks]. No one ever brought to book. The climate of impunity for crimes against journalist persists”.
Speaking about the closure of Media Houses in January 2020, Mr Bojang Jnr highlights that Journalists still face ill-treatment from the authorities. “In a recent political rhetoric from state house in Banjul the President’s accusation of journalists of biased and unfavourable coverage is a reminder of the former President Yahya Jammeh’s attack on the press,” he said.
According to Mr Bojang Jnr, “hostilities faced by journalists will likely worsen as in the run to, and during the election [December 2021]. And the fact that the protectors (police and politicians) have become the perpetrators makes it even more worrying”.
In his view “elements in the Gambia Police Force who have been oriented to hate journalists and trample on press freedom, continue to occupy the frontline of the state security’s anti-riot efforts” and “politicians, by their words and action, continue to incite their followers against journalists”.
In an effort to ensure journalists can execute their duties without fear or favour the Union has developed and submitted a position paper to the government through the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure spearheaded by Hon Ebrima Sillah, a seasoned journalist.
Media Environment Prior to December 2021
The GPU release argues that “the Union has made a case, based on evidence and insights for the government to provide proactive and reactive mechanisms aimed at providing improved protection of journalists”.
In an attempt to improve the environment before the December 2021 Elections the Union is calling for “Media-Security dialogue and training of security officers on [the] safety of journalists is also coming up. We will have an interface with political party leaders”, the GPU statement read.
According to the Union’s presser, “a policy is being developed to establish security protocols, including a safety manual for reporters. Series of training have been outlined, ahead of the election. These trainings will include First Aid training for reporters, safety training, and election reporting”.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Union’s Secretariat in Fajara, GPU President, Sheriff Bojang Jnr highlighted some of the long-awaited reforms of the repressive media laws in the Gambia. Mr Bojang Jnr reported that the Media Law Review Committee’s final report was submitted to the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure in May 2018 for the review and amendment of what it describes as “repressive media laws”.
According to Mr Bojang Jnr, the following legislation are still yet to be repealed by the State and they include;
- Officials Secrets Act of 1922,
- Criminal Code of 1933,
- Newspapers and Broadcasting Stations Act of 1944.
- Telegraph Stations Act of 1990,
- The Indemnity Act of 2001,
- G.R.T.S Act of 2004, and the
- The Information and Communications Act of 2009,
The GPU President has stressed that a number of bills seeking to repeal [repressive media laws] laws have been stagnant in Parliament while no concrete steps have been taken by the government to repeal them. In his view, the aforementioned laws need to be repealed because they are problematic and disturbing provisions that do not conform with international norms, standards and democracy.