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Media chiefs appeal for robust govt-media relations

Dec 30, 2009, 12:53 PM | Article By: Alieu Jabang

As the year 2009 comes to an end, media chiefs in the country have appealed to the Gambia government for robust media government relations, calling on the government to see the media as partners in development. Below is the full text of the comments of some media chiefs.

Compiled by Alieu Jabang.

Pap Saine Co-Publisher, Managing-Editor The Point

"My appeal to the Government is to open a new chapter with the independent press. We should have a very good rapport and good working relations. My appeal to government is to appoint a minister of Communication and Information, a Director of Press, and a spokesperson for the Government to facilitate the work of journalists in terms of access to information.

I want to reiterate to Government that we are partners in development. There are lots of misunderstandings between the independent media and Government and this should not be the case. If there is any difference, we should iron it out in the interest of national development for our beloved country.

I am also appealing to Government to repeal all the draconian media laws, which are not in agreement with our Constitution. We should follow the good example of some African countries like Ghana, Mali, South Africa, Benin and Senegal, which promote press freedom and access to information. A genuine democracy cannot be achieved without a vibrant press. We should collaborate and sit in a table to trash out issues of mistrust. It is the responsibility of Government to feed the press on the day -to-day events in this country.

Rumours and speculations, is very bad for society. It is only through the press that we can shed light on national issues."

Samuel Osseh Sarr - Editor-in-Chief Foroyaa

The media this year has faced a number of challenges amongst them economic, the issue of freedom of expression and the training of media personnel. These are the three main challenges that the media has faced this year. There are many challenges but definitely these three are the major issues that the media has come across.

Lets take the economic challenge first; the major issue here is the issue of creating a business atmosphere as far as the media is concerned, particularly the print media. It is really a tough challenge because the market is constricted, as only the literate people are able to read the newspapers. So it is necessary for the sales tax that is imposed on the imported newsprint to be reduced because that is actually a big yoke on the neck as far as print media is concerned. That is something that needs to be reviewed by the tax office.

We have really not moved to a level whereby everybody can freely expressed oneself without fearing arrest, detention, harassment and conviction of one sort or another. There is also a need to look at certain laws with a view to repealing them such as the law on sedition and the criminal law of libel. What is more appropriate is to have libel law as a civil matter between civilians so that one civilian who is affected can sue the other. These are some of the challenges we are faced with this year regarding the issue of freedom of expression. But there is another challenge that we have been facing, and that is the issue of training of journalists. In this regard, I feel that a lot of development has been made, with a number of training courses undertaken by the media and the GPU. I will also add that this year has witnessed a lot of solidarity within the media fraternity and the GPU. Despite all the difficult challenges they are faced with, they did not only survived but they have emerged stronger and stronger.

The Decree 70-71 provisions have been replaced with a new provision in the Newspaper Amendment Act 2004. What that is simply saying is that if you wish to register a newspaper or a broadcasting studio whether radio or TV, you should be registered and before you register you must signed a bond in the sum of D 500,000. That's the major aspect of that particular amendment. Decree 70 made it D100, 000 and that is replaced with the Newspaper Amendment Act of 2004, which has made D500, 000 as the bond of execution.

For example, in Ghana the constitution stated that you don?t need to obtain a license to operate a newspaper (media house) but here you have to.

To bring about solutions, the media fraternity has to stand up and raise the issue with the executive. It is a matter of advocacy, writing petitions, enlightening, lobbying and this way there will be a possibility of changing or solving these problems?

Finally, I still urge the authorities to decriminalize libel, and the law of sedition needs to be revoked because it is inimical to freedom of expression or inhibits it. The cost of newsprint material should also come down to ease some of these difficulties.

Madi MK Ceesay - Editor-in-Chief The Daily News

I will first start with the Newspaper Registration Act which required anyone who wants to set up a newspaper to put in place a collateral of properties worth D500, 000. That is a big constraint for anybody who wants to establish a media house here because you can imagine how many of us have a property worth half a million Dalasis. You go into countries as close as Ghana in West Africa where there is no need to put up a collateral; you can get up today and set up a newspaper. If we can have that law completely squashed off in our laws, then you will see a proliferation of newspapers.

The other law that is a big stumbling block to the media in this country is the Criminal Amendment Act 2004, which criminalises opinions and editorials. It makes people fall easily prey to libel, sedition and the publication of false information. That is a law which is archaic; it is a colonial law that was picked out of our law books. It wouldn't give us a very good image in terms of the situation of media freedom in this country.

Again the other law that should also go is Decree 70-71, which came in 1994, and it is still in the books. There is no need having Decree 70-71 now.  I think if these laws are removed from our law books, things will look fine for us. They create a lot of constraints, cause a lot of self censorship. That alone is a constraint. If we don't have any of those laws then we can freely do our work in our newsrooms. But so long as we have those laws in place, I can assure you there is going to be continuous self censorship in the newsrooms.

Relations between Government and the media, private media in particular; is not as cordial as we want it to be. And it has come down since the arrest and prosecution of our dear colleagues. There is not much friction between the private media and the government; the relationship seems to be fairly good, but is never stable. Generally my remarks on the relationship between the private media and government would be that there is a need to improve the situation. The best way to improve on our relations is for both government and private media to open doors and have a dialogue. It is only through dialogue that we can improve our relationship. Government must know what the private media is out for. There is a misconception as many people see the private media as antagonists; this is totally a wrong concept because we and they (the Government) live in this country. We all have a good thing in our heart for our country. There is no hard feeling, but we cannot achieve that if we don't sit and dialogue directly.

We need a proper and continuous dialogue with government and the best entry point is the Ministry of Communication and Information. Now that the President is the Minister, we don't have direct access to him but the Permanent Secretary should be free enough to open his doors to the private media to start a dialogue and transmit whatever we discus to his Minister who is the President.

Finally, all I want is to see Gambia listed amongst the free media countries like Ghana, Mali and even as close as Cape Verde which are all classified as free media countries. And to bring that about, Government has a big stake in it. The legal, economic and the political environment plays a vital role in transforming The Gambia from a none free to a free country status and that's what we want to see.

Ousman Kargbo - Editor-in-Chief Business Digest

As for me, the year 2009 has some mixed effects on journalists in The Gambia, in the sense that journalists in the country have seen some good and positive developments as well as negative developments.

On the positive side, journalists in The Gambia are never the same as in past years, because we are growing. Many people are learning and developing from one stage to another. The Gambia Press Union, the umbrella body for press in The Gambia, has been coming up with very good programmes to uplift the capacity of journalists. Though it is difficult for the media chiefs, but they are trying to give journalists more facilities with regards to salaries and equipment that they need to do their work, and many other developments.

On the negative side, we have witnessed another harsh year in the history of journalism in The Gambia when some of our colleagues were arrested and detained. That was a bitter experience for journalists in The Gambia.

We want a Freedom and Access to Information Act to be introduced in The Gambia. If this is done, we will be able to report well for the benefit of the masses, so that people will learn, be enlightened, be educated and be well-informed on what is happening. An informed society is a society that can always make productive development efforts. At the moment, we find it very difficult to access information from both Government and the private sectors and the people themselves.

In the coming years, we expect a cordial relationship with the Government and for them to wipe out all draconian media laws, especially Decree 70-71. There could be differences, there could be problems, there could be misunderstandings and we could step on each other's toes. As the saying goes on, even the tongue and the teeth fight sometimes. We as journalists will continue to do our job but we want the Government to see us as partners in development and not as antagonists.

Finally, I will call on the GPU, Media Chiefs and Government to work hand in hand in the best interest of our people and the world at large.

Musa S Sheriff - Editor-in-Chief The Voice

I want to see the relationship between the media and Government to be cordial. It is always very difficult for us to get first hand information. Most of us rely on the state-own media, like GRTS to get information.

Decree 70-71 and other laws are also affecting the media industry in the country. They are really affecting people, like a threat hanging over you right and left. These decrees and laws are causing too much censorship in the media's work, but we still try to do our best. I think in West Africa, Gambian journalists are among of the best, despite there is no journalism training institution in the country.