Oct 10, 2008, 4:19 AM
Gambia Press Union (GPU), the body responsible for media affairs in the country, over the weekend celebrated World Press Freedom Day at the premises of Alliance Franco Gambienne along Kairaba Avenue.
The celebration took the form of a meeting of media personalities with representation from members of the public.
Addressing the gathering Mr Louie Thomasi, the representative of Gabriel Gbaglo, Director of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for West African Region, dwelt on the problems plaguing journalists all over the world. He enumerated the threats and problems and the efforts being made to help journalsits. He lamented that whereas in the past one got damned for making a report, nowadays one gets killed. He went on to give a harrowing account of the number of journalists killed throughout Africa, and those languishing in detention without trial.
Mr Thomasi nevertheless contended that while no stone would be left unturned to improve the capacities of journalists with a view to enhancing their professional status, their would be no backtracking in the quest to inform and educate the public which journalists everywhere seek to serve.
Speaking earlier Ndey Taffa Sosseh, President of the Gambia Press Union, welcomed every body and declared the occasion open. This year's theme, "Freedom of Expression, Access and Empowerment" was touched on by many contributors.
Halifa Sallah, the special Rappoteur for the African Union and the Guest Speaker on the theme, said that Press Freedom Day was not a day to celebrate but to contemplate. He said freedom is not simply an ideal but a reality, saying that life without freedom would become negative. "Freedom is a necessity for us to exist on earth. Mr Sallah spoke at length on how Gambian journalists in the past acted as the voice of the people without voice. "Here we think about Francis Small," he revealed. He called on journalists to work in unison as a way forward.
Mr Sallah then went on to point out constitutional provisions relating to freedom of the press. "The country's constitution was revised and it has freedom of information and it is the core of human rights that needs to be preserved. There can be no freedom without access to information. It becomes a cornerstone of democracy. The laws and constitution should be known," he disclosed.
Discussing the causes of the problems faced by journalists, Mr Sallah observed that journalists do not work in isolation but in institutions. He outlined the roles that media establishments should play when it comes to the interest of journalists, saying: "If you live in a country, society where you are told media houses are closed and intimidation and arrests made when journalists go about do their work, that is not free."
In his recommendation, Mr. Sallah said that the Gambia Press Union should invite some lawyers to train journalists to know the law of evidence. This, he said would prepare journalists to square up to potential legal actions that might be unfairly instituted against them. "It is good to have the tools for their investigative journalsim."
Referring to the difficulty encountered by African journalists in accessing information from official circles, Mr Sallah contended that the principles surrounding elected governments make for the necessity for the accountability of public authorities to the public. "They have to take this fundamental duty to allow journalists to have access to them," he reasoned.
He stressed the press is indispensable to the state, noting that the society should protect the media. "There is no government of the world who have more power than its people. We should help GPU to enhance the dignity of the journalists. Otherwise we shall lose our young jounalists. Tyrants have gone but the pen is here and the pen is mightier than the sword."
Ba Trawally, Lawyer Ousainu Darboe, OJ Jallow, Lawyer Almamy Taal, Sheikh Lewis, all made salient contributions on the theme.
The occasion also saw the launching the GPU Newsletter by Sukai Bojang of UNESCO and the much hyped book titled "A Living Mirror The Life of Deyda Hydara." The occasion was attended by a good number of journalists and well-wishers. Emil Touray, the GPU Secretary General, gave the vote of thanks.