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The Dawn of a New Era?

May 19, 2008, 4:07 AM

It is encouraging to hear open dialogue on the topic of co-operation between the national security institutions and the media. The relationship is an essential one if journalists are to be able to carry out their duties to the fullest degree. For some time there has been mistrust of journalists on the part of the security institutions. In a way this is understandable, as by their very nature these institutions tend to be secretive. It is perhaps felt that journalists are seeking to publish information which some people would rather not have published. The reality is however that in an open and free society only the most sensitive information should be kept from the general public. This would include operational information and issues of a similar nature. Other than this most information should be in the public domain so that the population can stay informed.

When he was addressing the recently held workshop on civil-military relationship Mr. Abdou Karim Sonko, permanent secretary, Department of State for Communication and Information Technology urged journalists to fully understand the guiding principles of responsible and balanced reporting. We agree that journalists must adhere to these principles but there are a number of issues which must be addressed. Journalists must be able to access training so that they are fully educated on these principles. That is why there is such a need for a journalism course at the University of The Gambia.

Secondly for a reporter to bring balance to any piece they must be able to access both sides of the story. This means when a reporter contacts any security agency for a comment on a particular story they must be furnished with one. The security agencies cannot just pick and choose what they want to comment on there must be consistency with regard to the treatment of the press. The press is one of the essential elements of a free society. It has long been regarded as essential in a democracy and recognised as one the pillars that ensures good governance. For this reason the press must be supported by the government and its security agencies and encouraged to flourish and thrive.

Both the press and the government are working for the same ultimate goals of bettering the lives of Gambians and for this reason neither should have anything to fear from the other. Government must open its doors to the independent media so as to allow the media to disseminate information to the general public. For too long accessing information from the government has been a very difficult task for journalists. Another factor that would encourage the media in this country would be a reduction in the crippling taxes which newspapers must pay. These charges make it difficult for many outlets to survive.

The other thing that must be said loud and clear is that the press has no agenda other than truth. The American Ambassador Barry Wells said recently that journalists are frontline defenders of truth. This is indeed the case and the only one who must fear the truth is he who has done wrong.

Let us hope that the recent workshop is the dawn of a new era in The Gambia. The press is eager for the relationship with the security agencies to develop let us hope that they feel the same way and the old suspicions on both sides can become the stuff of history.

"Much truth is spoken, that more can be concealed."

Charles Darling.