Nov 12, 2008, 5:40 AM
The Gambia Press Union Saturday commemorated the seventh anniversary of the assassination of the late Deyda Hydara, co-publisher and former managing editor of The Point newspaper, who was gunned down on the night of 16th December 2004.
Saturday’s symposium on the theme: “The Role of Journalists in Creating an Open Society” followed a recitation of the Holy Qur’an on Friday at Hydara’s residence in Bakau Katchikally.
Held at TANGO conference hall, the symposium brought together members of the media fraternity, civil society and politicians.
The day marked the 7th anniversary since the late Deyda Hydara was killed by unknown gunmen in a drive by shooting in Kanifing, while on the wheel of his car heading home from work.
In his introductory remarks, Gibairu Janneh, Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union, underscored the significance of the theme, noting that is indispensable to the success of any nation.
According to him, after seven years of no success in tracing the killers of Deyda Hydara, it is necessary for the government to be reminded of its responsibility as stated in section 18 of the Constitution of The Gambia, which among others gives the right to life to every Gambian.
In his presentation on the theme, Mr Cherno Jallow, a media consultant, said the press is a reflection of the society which exercises soft power towards the public good.
“When exercising for a common good, it is said to be in the public interest,” he said, adding that the Gambian constitution stated clearly that power and authority are derived from the will of the people.
He stated that holding government and all state institutions accountable to the people is one of the functions of the press, in its watchdog role as provided for in the constitution.
Therefore, he added, the press is to nurture a democratic culture wherein fundamental rights, freedoms and the rule of law are respected.
According to Mr. Jallow, in its watchdog role, the press must reinvent itself; it must be responsible, professional and capable of assuming its role as the fourth estate.
He noted that it is the responsibility of the executive or the President to uphold the constitution without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and that, once elected, the President is the President of The Gambia, President of all Gambians irrespective of tribe, creed or political affiliation.
Also presenting a paper on the theme was Sam Sarr, managing editor of Foroyaa newspaper, who said Hydara was murdered in cold blood at a time when he stood up to defend press freedom in this country.
“People are afraid to speak out in this country,” he said, adding that even families whose loved ones are arrested or detained are always afraid to speak out.
“They would say ‘no, no please don’t put me in trouble’. Where then is the open society?” he asked, noting that even editors are always mindful when dealing with critical articles.
According to him, the Constitution of The Gambia has created the possibilities of having an open society, in which every person is entitled to freedom of expression as stipulated in section 25.
In his view, there is only an open society where people will speak freely without fear of being arrest or detained.
“Sections 208 of the constitution has it that the public media/state media should broadcast divergent views and dissenting opinion, but when you watch GRTS, every day it is the same thing,” he further stated.
Mr. Sarr noted that to be able to play our roles as journalists effectively, we must have access to information and a Freedom of Information Act in place to empower citizens to have access to information at all times.
Madi Jobarteh, deputy director of TANGO, said after seven years, there is still silence as no one has said anything about who the perpetrators are.
Noting that freedom of speech gives rise to all human rights, Jobarteh said the very foundation of an open society is the media.
“Media amplifies the voices of the voiceless so that it can reach everyone. Killing the voice means you are killing the people,” he added.
Pap Saine, co-publisher and managing director of The Point newspaper, gave a biography of Deyda Hydara, who was a childhood friend.
Describing Deyda as an icon and a martyr of press freedom, Saine recalled that he and Hydara set up the
Revealing that Hydara was the initiator of the fencing of the Old Jeshwang muslim cemetery, Pap Saine said Hydara, among others, paid school fees for many children during his life time, and inspired a lot of young Gambians into the journalism field.
Saine also denied suggestions that journalists of the independent press are the mouthpiece of the opposition in this country, stressing that all what the journalists want is to promote divergent views and dissenting opinions.
“We are not enemies and we will never be enemies to anybody. We are partners contributing our quota to national development,” he added.
Among the personalities who attended the symposium were