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A Tale of Two Laws

Nov 26, 2008, 4:42 AM

There are two pieces of legislation that journalists find abominable in this country. They are the Criminal (Amendment) Act 2004 and the Newspaper Registration (Amendment) Act 2004. We wish both laws could be repealed, as the National Assembly has repealed the National Agricultural Development Agency Act 2006.

Just as "the creation of NADA is at variance with the private sector-led growth and development policies and strategies", so do the two press laws impede effective journalism in the country. The Criminal (Amendment) Act 2004 criminalizes defamation, stipulating a jail term or an exorbitant fine for an erring journalist. The second law increases newspaper registration fivefold, from D100, 000 to D500, 000. This huge sum is meant to restrict independent media ownership. That way, the culture of a pluralistic press - one of the requirements of press freedom - is violated.

We insist consistently that journalists should not be sent to jail for press offences because they are not criminals. The laws of libel and defamation are already in our statute books to deal with journalists who go against our professional code of conduct. Ideally, it is the journalist body - the Gambia Press Union (GPU) - that should be vested with the authority of reprimanding journalists who are guilty of professional misconduct.

In a sense, both laws are anachronistic because the world is now becoming more accepting of press freedom. Countries around the world are working towards decriminalising press offences, as they have recognized the media as catalyst for progress in every way. In Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the press is appreciably free to carry out its role as the watchdog of society. It is to the advantage of this country to emulate the example of these other countries to make press freedom a reality.

We no longer live in the Middle Ages when intolerance was the norm. We now live in the age of freedom and mutual interdependence when ideas are confronted by ideas, not by coercion or intimidation. Since the National Assembly has already recognised the role of journalism in national development by supporting the training of journalists, it should go the whole hog to abolish the two draconian laws that threaten to strangulate effective journalism in the country.

"I'm asham'd the law is such an Ass."

George Chapman