GOOD MORNING MR PRESIDENT

Monday, May 15, 2017

Once again, we would like to remind you about the importance of the press as it is a veritable tool in any democratic society.  Without a vibrant press, democracy, good governance and human rights would just be a farce.

This is why the press is referred to as the Fourth Estate, for we are watchdogs of the society on the government. 

However, this role does not mean we are enemies to the government; rather, we are partners in development. 

No man is perfect but it is our role as journalists to inform and educate the public and guide government in its politics.  When they do wrong, it is our duty to show them the right way. 

Mr President, it is delightful to note that since you took over the country, so far so good, we have been working with little degree of censorship unlike before and our fears have been allayed.  Now we have peace of mind to professionally do our journalism job.  We thank you for creating this environment conducive to do our job and we hope it would continue.

However, making the press vibrant in The Gambia, as you promised, requires a lot of amendments and improvement to the status quo.

First of all, the laws governing the operations of the media and journalists should be abolished in earnest.

Also, your government should consider subvention to the media houses, both public and private media outlets.  This is already happening in other countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Benin.

Mr President, one of the most probable areas you need to adjust is land for media houses. Since all the lands in the country belong to the state and the government has been generous with it by giving land to deserving organisations. 

We also want this generosity to be extended to us in the media.  As you know, no newspaper here in this country has its own permanent structure.

We also want you to ensure that your government timely pays all its adverts carried in the media.  Since media houses in The Gambia depends on advertisement for survival and the government is one of the biggest advertisers, any delay in the payment would directly affect the operations of the media.

Mr President, we also want a reduction in taxes on news production materials. 

Also, you should work with your ministers to ensure that each of the ministries have a press secretary.  A good example has already been set by the ministries of foreign affairs, and that of the interior. 

This will open up avenues for journalists to have access to information from these ministries.  Access to information is very vital for it would make it possible for journalists to verify any information regarding the government before publication.

It would also be preferred if you could appeal to the friendly countries of The Gambia who believe and respect press freedom and democracy to give us support in terms of training and equipment.  

Besides, Mr President, as you already know, we have lost some of our dear colleagues mysteriously; some were maimed for life just for being who they are, journalists.

We want your government to carry out due and diligent investigations in these cases which include the gruesome murder of Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper, who was killed in 2004, the disappearance without trace of Chief Manneh of Daily Observer in 2006, and the killing of Omar Barrow, a reporter for Sud FM who was shot during the student riot. 

Of course, we are aware of certain investigations being carried out, which is very good but we are also interested in the expeditious investigation of these particular cases.

Mr President, the Ecowas Community Court had already ruled on some of these cases and the Gambia government has been ordered to pay certain amount of compensation to the families of Deyda Hydara and Chief Manneh.  Musa Saidykhan, a journalist of the defunct Independent newspaper who was brutally tortured while under detention at the National Intelligence Agency, also had Ecowas court judgement in his favour and the government is to compensate him. 

These families are waiting for these compensations for it is an obligation on the government to comply as an Ecowas member state and not forgetting the key role Ecowas played in bringing sanity to The Gambia of recent.

Mr President, your government should open up and have a meeting with all the media owners with a view to finding solutions to our challenges as we chart a new away forward in the development of the media.

As we wish you a good day ahead, Mr President, we want to remind you of a defining statement by your compatriot, a former American president, Thomas Jefferson, who once said: “Where it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”