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GMC calls for repeal of draconian media laws, others

May 7, 2012, 1:11 PM

As part of activities marking World Press Freedom Day, the opposition Gambia Moral Congress has issued a statement joining calls for a repeal of draconian media laws that it said continue to cripple free speech in The Gambia.

The statement, signed by the party leader Mai Ahmad Fatty and issued to the press, also joined calls for a thorough investigation into the assassination of Deyda Hydara and disappearance of Chief Manneh, particularly in the light of the new information on the whereabouts of Chief Manneh, publicly made by former Justice Minister Edu Gomez.

Below we reproduce the full text of the statement:

I strongly endorse the Statement of GPU President Mr. Emily Bai Touray issued on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. It is indeed very worrying that The Gambia could claim to be a democratic country, and still continues not only to intensify its repression of the independent press, but also to retain draconian legislation that cripples free speech.

GMC supports the GPU in its call for the comprehensive repeal of all obnoxious laws that asphyxiates freedom of the press.

We also support, without conditions, the call for thorough investigations into the assassination of Deyda Hydara and disappearance of Chief Manneh, particularly in the light of the new information on the whereabouts of Chief Manneh, publicly made by former Justice Minister Edu Gomez. I call on the APRC Government to comply with the judgments and orders of the ECOWAS court on Chief Manneh and Musa Saidykhan.

Its failure to comply with the orders of a regional international court of binding authority on The Gambia, does not tell well on the regime, violates international law, and seeks to implant impunity in the ECOWAS sub-region. It demonstrates the over-all governance climate in the country.

Of equal importance is the call for the APRC Government to implement the various resolutions of the African Union on these same precise matters, unheeded each year.

The Press is an indispensable partner in sustainable national development. Those of us who voluntarily opt for public service must be willing to subject ourselves to public scrutiny. The right of the public to be informed and to know is imperative in any democratic society.

Public figures are often complimentary of the press when they seek the limelight to enhance their public profile, and inexplicably revile the press when negative aspects of their personalities are equally brought to the limelight.

As a public figure, I have had occasion to be displeased with the press, and frankly I do not enjoy some of it.

However, I also appreciate that as much as I must be permitted to do my job in the public interest, the manner in which I conduct myself becomes the business of the press, also in the public interest.

They too, must be permitted to do their job. It keeps those who need to be accountable on their toes. The beneficiary is the public – the citizenry and our democracy. It makes our nation stronger, and facilitates the enthronement of core values in our society.

Public figures must accept criticism. It may not be a palatable feeling to be pilloried in newspaper pages for omissions or commissions, particularly in a close knitted society as ours.

Those of us who experience it quite often appreciate its venom, but that is still no pretext or excuse to censor the press. No! Certainly not!

US President Nixon is reputed to have said that if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen! One must develop the guts to deal with it, and learn from lessons to better serve your country.

Anything that deviates from what one may subjectively characterize as unconstructive criticism is catered for by the law of defamation, the application of which must not amount to outright censorship.

The press is a veritable partner for development. Let us embrace them. The potential of the Gambian press is phenomenal; they achieve so much under excruciating circumstances, with limited resources and severe constraints. They are not detached from society or reality.

They are not aliens from Mars, but our own sons and daughters of the soil, including those who seek the hospitality of our shores, just as Gambians enjoy the hospitality of foreign shores.

They have equal stake in the development, security and the strengthening of our communities. Our press men/women were born and raised in our midst, share similar emotions and experience the vicissitudes of Gambian political and economic lives as any one of us. They do not hate their society, country or government.

It is the nature of their call that determines the tempo of their chosen profession. They are of pure human stock - Patriots and not illegitimate sons/daughters of our proud Land! It is unacceptable that the Press should be singled out for horrendous treatment.

Enough is enough! STOP the press repression and PUT AN END to atrocities against journalists and media houses.

We at GMC are truly encouraged by, and appreciative of the enormous material contributions of the British Government in strengthening the independent press, through the British High Commission in The Gambia, particularly to The Point.

The U.S Embassy has also been very supportive, and the recent example is its material support to Taranga FM. The EU has done a lot in both requiring free speech under the Cotonou consultative process, and in granting capacity.

The Gambian media has benefited immensely from the Commonwealth and continues to do so. The world has been very instrumental, and we say THANK YOU.

What Gambians need to visibly see is the outright commitment of our government to be reflected in its treatment of journalists and media houses.

A GMC Government shall repeal draconian press laws, expand the space in which the media functions, pass Freedom of Information Act, establish a School of Journalism and provide material support to media houses.

It must be accepted that the press is here to stay. They ain’t budging an inch. You’ve got to live with them, and there ain’t a way round it. As the local saying goes, “mening mening tafal tafal, loh lebeh laban-na”.

Lastly, Reporters Without Borders in a very recent publication available on the net, quoted a declaration made by Gambia government on national television in September 2009 threatening to kill human rights advocates with impunity.

Such utterances are very unfortunate. I condemn this in the strongest of terms and call on the government to recant this shameful Statement with immediate effect.

I urge the GPU to insist on quality journalism, speak out and act out against tendencies that may subject the profession to ridicule. Journalists, like the rest of us are not perfect. A person’s reputation or integrity must not suffer on account of reckless reporting, prejudice or at the influence of money and position.

Objectivity, the late Dixon-Colley taught us, has no substitute in journalism. Those of us who worked under him appreciated this value. The late Deyda Hydara practiced journalism on that same altar. Let us consolidate and immortalize their legacies by upholding the best standards of journalism.

Long Live The Gambia Press Union!!

Mai Ahmad Fatty

GMC Party Leader