INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM DAY BY ALH. NGAING DEMBA THOMAS

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

In May 1991, at a meeting of the Independent African Press held in Windhoek, Namibia the delegates solemly declared that ”the establishment maintenance and fostering of an independent pluralistic and free press is essential for the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation and for economic development.

Six month later the member states of UNESCO subscribed to the declaration that a free pluralistic and independent press is an essential component of any democratic society. This declaration is a recognition that is indeed an essential condition of democracy for people to have access or be given information.

In pursuit of this ideals it is important to realise that those whose task is to provide that information face an important responsibility and should be given every facility to enable them to assume their responsibilities. In fact the best barometer to measure a society’s state of health and maturity is to what extent the freedom of the press is guaranteed.

The rediscoverd unanimity of journalists and Government representatives concerning  a fundamental principal, prompted UNESCO in association with major media  organisations to choose the 3rd of May, the anniversary of the declaration of Winhoek as International Press Freedom Day.

Doubtless still the press remains the most dreaded institution to autocratic rulers the world over. For this reason it is often the first victim of their anger. The press amplified the pitiable groans of the oppressed and pricks the world conscience for sympathy and action. In that exercise it unshackles the oppressed and dethrones the oppressor. It will therefore be most appreciated if the draconian laws intended to silence the press are abrogated giving us the hope of a signal to the dawn of a new era of press freedom in the Gambia.

The gagging of the independent press is a preoccupation of those who have a grudge with the truth and since the world community needs the freedom of the press, truth to facilitate the democratisation process must at all cost be safe-guarded.

A free press along with an independent judiciary is essential for the protection of human rights. One of the surest protection for democracy is free and open exchange of ideas and criticism. In a democratic society public officials must be held accountable for their actions and a free press is the people’ watchdog. The press must be free to investigate and to publish what it finds true even if it embarrasses or hurts the careers of powerful figures in or out of office.

The press in the Gambia has endeavoured throughout the years to persistently continue to play the role of a watchdog and also the creator of directions for the common good. The press in the Gambia greatly contributed over the years towards sharpening of peoples’ awareness towards national issues by providing the citizens with factual information. This role of the press as a medium of mass education is a necessary criteria for a balanced democracy.

 

In the Gambia the press which was beset with the problems of unprofessional approach to journalism partly due to the lack of training facilities and indeed the repressive laws which ultimately resulted to the brutal murder of the practioners in Fourth Estate during the dreadful rule of the Dictator Yaya Jammeh, now enters the dawn of a new era in which the conducive atmosphere created by the present Democratic Government of the Gambia allows for the exercise of the freedom of expression and thought. The presence of modern printing press with trained graphic art designers has also significantly improved upon the quality of production as is now evidence in the quality of newspapers.

We take this opportunity to express our sympathies to bereaved families of the victims of Tyranny who in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression lost their lives during the past 22 years of intimidation, arrests, detention, torture and ultimate brutal murder of our colleagues. May their blessed souls rest in perfect peace.

I wish to take this opportunity in commemoration of the International Press Freedom Day to humbly appeal to advertisers and customers for their various texts for publicity promptly pay for their publicity spaces in news papers. Because newspaper publishers have to meet the exorbitant costs for printing materials, electricity, rent, staff salaries etc, the early settlement of bills for publicity will greatly enhance their ability to render their services to the satisfaction of all concern.

The current situation of newspapers in the Gambia unlike newspapers in the Francophone countries where subventions are paid to publishers compels newspaper publishers in the Gambia to urge their customers to timely settle their bills for publicity which is the major source of income to all publishers in the Gambia.

Since the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the press will endeavour at all cost to play its role to zealously guard and protect intellectual freedom of all civil liberties of which the most priced is the liberty of thought and expression. We fervently hope that the significant and remarkable change of attitude by the present democratic government of the Gambia will continue to enhance the balance democracy that we all hope and pray to live in the next coming years.

Source: Picture: ALH. NGAING DEMBA THOMAS