Aug 1, 2013, 11:50 AM
The Gambia Press Union on Friday 3rd May 2013 joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, with calls for government to expand the space for media freedom.
The day, celebrated annually across the globe, brought together veteran Gambian journalists, representatives of civil society organizations, the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Nana Grey-Johnson, members of the diplomatic community, as well as politicians including opposition leaders.
This year’s commemoration, which started with a procession by journalists from the Africell head office along Kairaba Avenue to Tango conference hall in Kanifing, centered on the theme: “Safe to Speak: Security & Freedom of Expression in all Media.
Nana Grey-Johnson, Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure addressed journalists on the topic: ‘The role and responsibility of the Gambia Government in promoting and protecting freedom of expression and media within the framework of National Development.’
In his address, Mr. Grey Johnson bemoaned the lack of reporting of some of the achievements registered by the Government of the Gambia in meeting the development needs and targets of the populace.
But what was conspicuously absent in his address was the concerns of journalists, key among them the closure of newspapers and repeal of draconian media laws, which raised by the minister of information in spite of the fact that it was a World Press Freedom Day event.
As we celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom Day, two newspapers and one radio station were closed late last year indefinitely, and calls for a repeal of media laws has so far fallen on deaf ears.
Noting that there is much in evidence that the government is producing results, Nana Grey-Johnson cited the recent address by the President to the National Assembly during the State Opening of Parliament, in which, according to him, featured hundreds of headlines that would have been written, but hardly filtered into the coverage of the national papers.
‘For government, there is already an outspoken national agenda for development. It is spelt out currently in the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the Vision 2020. In tandem, there is also the agenda towards sustaining a peaceful Gambia, where its law-abiding people live in tolerance and respect of their diversity in language, region, and religion within secure national borders and a peaceful sub-region,’ he stated.
‘But I guess a mother in Central River Region reaching a clinic on time by donkey-cart ambulance so that she did not die of child-birth is not the kind of story that would sell newspapers. But see how important that story is to our development objectives, but which goes unreported,’ Grey-Johnson said.
He added: ‘In accounting for government, I’d turn the spotlight, if I may, on the media to ask it of its own role and responsible responses to the national development agenda. It is no news to you what damage is being wreaked on our country’s international image and standing at the hands of journalists.’
According to him, his Ministry sees opportunity on every step to bottle the acid, lower the rhetoric and find a workable median where much progress would be achieved.
‘We are of the view that most of the difficulties between state and press are magnified by suspicion, paranoia, and agenda. Media must demand of itself the true examination of the quality expression of its responsibility as it asks of its government. By every means, it is a two-way street,’ he told journalists.
Government, Grey-Johnson added, is intent on broadening the scope for collaboration and is demonstrating the fact by its staunch support of training with the great strides being made at the University of The Gambia, which is validating, a curriculum, harmonised across our sub-region, for the teaching of certificate, diploma and degree courses, preparatory to the establishment of a department of journalism at the University.
Further stating that Government offers open doors to help wherever it can, Nana Grey-Johnson said his Ministry remains proactive as it seek a common ground for the most respectful engagement.
‘Whatever is stopping the press body politic from responsibly responding to that call must be examined in-house and mended. Old allegiances, hero-characters and opinions which perhaps compel younger minds to believe that aligning with government on any score whatsoever is letting down the side should be challenged for progress,’ he said, adding that the thinking that responding positively to any government overture is treachery to the fraternity, or reporting on major development markers achieved by government is “griotism” is not true.
Also speaking at the celebrations was Ousman Yarbo, Executive Director of Tango, who underscored the important role the media can play in the socio-economic development of a nation.
According to him, media houses have a share in the development of national development programs.
Yarbo noted that, for that reason, if the media is to celebrate this day, they need to reflect on their performance and challenges over the years, adding that journalists have a responsibility and their responsibility is mainly to provide accurate information to the masses on issues relevant for public consumption.
Gibairu Janneh, Executive Director of the Gambia Press Union, also underscored the importance of the day and renewed calls for government to widen the space for media freedom in the country and re-open closed newspapers and radio stations.
“We are making our appeal because the GPU is of the firm belief that the closure of those media houses adds nothing to the development of The Gambia. And since we are all in the business of national development, each of us must be a contributor to that development,’ Janneh stated.
“We also expect media laws and other laws that are not compatible with free speech and media to be reviewed and brought into a mode that is in conformity with our constitution. And, of course, with the obligations that the Government of The Gambia has placed on itself by signing international instruments at various level,” Madi Jobarteh, Program Manager, Tango also told the gathering.