should first of all recognise that the Barrow Government has started taking
steps of reformation to usher in a befitting new dispensation.
However, politicians are in most cases not the same when they are wearing the robe of opposition and when they are in their robe in the corridors of power.
They many a time show their true colours when in government or when they are wielding state power - words are hardly translated into actions.
On the journey to State House by the Coalition, many promises or planned policies have been delivered on the podium of campaigning for state power and, as the Fourth Estate, we will not relent in our role of reminding and calling on the powers that be to do that which is expected of them – that is, putting in place sound and correct policies and taking right actions that will bring about real transformation and development in our country.
In that drive, freedom of association, press freedom, human rights and socio-economic development must be seen to be realised.
Such a call has just been re-echoed by institutions such as Article 19 and Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
In its clear and simple message, Article 19 calls on or reminds the new President to “deliver on inclusion and prioritise free expression”.
It states: “Gambia has voted for change, and we hope to see President Barrow deliver on promises to build a society committed to transparency, public participation and media freedom.
“It is essential that freedom of expression and information are safeguarded in the new Gambia and we want to see the President engage with civil society and ordinary Gambians throughout the transition process. It is time for all Gambians to have a voice.”
The new government will, therefore, do well to prioritise reforming or repealing laws used to stifle free expression, specifically the Information and Communications Act, the Newspaper Act and the amended Criminal Code, which increases sanctions on sedition, libel, public disorder, and false information.
Under the new Attorney General and Minister of Justice, it is hoped this will be done without much ado. Experience has shown that when these things are delayed, it becomes difficult for the sitting governments to give the media that free space to do their job well and professionally.
That is why organisations like Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) would continue to call on state authorities to put things aright, especially as regards free expression, press freedom and human rights issues.
At their latest meeting (25 and 26 January 2017) in Dakar, Senegal, the MFWA board directors made a loud and clear call on the new Gambian government to respect the rights of the people and the media.
They called on the new government to be mindful of the “very repressive press situation and freedom of expression conditions in The Gambia under the 22-year rule of President Yahya Jammeh”.
The government would, therefore, do well to undertake “urgent reforms that will promote, protect and defend the rights of the Gambian people to freely express themselves and to guarantee press freedom in the country.
“Such reforms will include the repeal of laws that criminalise speech offences and the passage of a Right to Information (RTI) legislation,” the MFWA stated in a resolution.
It urged the new government to support media sector reform measures such as “building the capacity of journalists, improving journalism training institutions, strengthening and reforming the Gambian Television and Radio Service (GRTS), and other initiations that will ensure a vibrant, pluralistic and professional media landscape that will support participatory and accountable governance”.
These are genuine and fundamental steps that need urgent government action. We hope and pray that the new government lives by its word.
“ People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”