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2011 Polls: Training Journalists in Election Reporting

Sep 21, 2011, 1:19 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

Ahead of scheduled presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, over 20 journalists drawn from the print and electronic media yesterday began a four-day intensive training on election reporting.

The training, underway at the Gambia Press Union Secretariat in Bakau, is the result of a media capacity building program in The Gambia, launched in November 2010 by ICFJ with funding from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

Being conducted in conjunction with the Gambia Press Union, GPU, and the Foundation for Legal Aid Research and Empowerment, FLARE, the purpose of the program is to enhance the skills of journalists (reporters and editors) working in the country, as well as strengthen the associations which represent them.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Alieu F. Sagnia, country director of ICFJ-Gambia, said the purpose of the training course is to prepare journalists and their media houses for effective election coverage and reporting.

“It is believed that in the medium to long term, this activity will contribute towards achieving the overall program objective, which is to support the media organizations in the Gambia, by building their capacity, and in this way help advance the cause of good governance and basic freedoms in the country,” Sagnia stated.

He told journalists that practicing with improved skills and greater professionalism can increase their credibility, in addition to being empowered to operate effectively and efficiently in their environment.

Almami Taal, was the guest speaker, and in his keynote address underscored the importance of the training, noting that elections form part of a democratization process.

According to Taal, who is president of FLARE, democracy is not an event but a process of checks and responsibility.

“The privilege and responsibility of reporting the news goes hand in hand,” Taal said, while urging journalists to be mindful in dealing with politicians.

He also urged journalists to practice responsible journalism as elections are not child’s play, stressing that, as journalists, they must find new ways and new paradigms of trying to deliver democracy.

Bai Emil Touray, president of the Gambia Press Union reminded journalists of the pivotal role they play, especially when it comes to election reporting and coverage.

Touray urged his colleagues to be responsible in reporting elections as journalist can fuel violence or maintain peace, through their reporting.

“The Constitution of the Gambia has clearly stipulated that journalists shall hold the government accountable, as well as serve as watchdog,” he stated.

The GPU president noted that the masses cannot make proper decision if they are not properly informed by journalists.

“We must also bear in mind that election is a process; it is not only campaigning or casting votes; elections goes beyond that period. Elections start the day the central statistics bureau collects census data,” he said, adding that from such census, journalists are also expected to cover registration periods which is crucial, as many election observers believe that is the time elections are rigged.

Meanwhile, the topics to be covered by the training workshop include legal principles; electoral laws of the Gambia, IEC media guidelines for election coverage, and the role of editors in covering and reporting elections.

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