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The Need to Uphold Press Freedom in The Gambia

Jun 15, 2009, 7:03 AM

The Need to Uphold Press Freedom in The Gambia

The call by the Gambia Press Union in its press release reacting to President Jammeh's statement on the murder of Deyda Hydara and Press Freedom in The Gambia is indeed a step in the right direction towards the promotion of a 'free PRESS' society.

The Gambia Press Union called on the Gambia Government to respect, promote and defend the rights of journalists, notably by bringing an immediate end to the unnecessary and continued embarrassment and harassment of journalists; to create the enabling environment for the development and full participation of the independent media, the fourth estate, by repealing the current media laws which criminalize media offences amongst a host of other detrimental issues. A friendly atmosphere between the government and the independent media should be created as this will enable the expansion of the space for divergent views and healthy debate.

Government should be seen to pass new and progressive media related laws such as Freedom of Information and Access to Information Acts which amongst other provisions, guarantee freedom of the media as stipulated in the regional and international treaties such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights to which it is signatory. Government should open doors to the independent media for the free flow of information.

We quite agree with the Gambia Press Union that the legal environment, in particular the Newspaper Amendment Act 2004, the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2004, the Newspaper Registration Act and the recently passed Communications Bill 2009, make it practically impossible to practise efficiently as a journalist and remain within the ambits of the law.

The laws notwithstanding, the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh, the continued prolonging of unnecessary court cases of journalists and media practitioners, arbitrary arrests and detention, harassment of Gambian journalists, and the gruesome murder of Deyda Hydara should be critically looked into.

The death of any Gambian, more so one who was most vocal on issues of human rights, freedom of expression and the development of the country in general, even if it meant clashing with the powers that be, can only be deemed suspicious until such a time that the state can logically, reasonably, factually and forensically, and within the shortest possible period prove otherwise. An example we should follow from Senegal was the statement by President Abdoulie Wade that journalists in Senegal will no longer go to jail. This, if followed by the Gambia will boost the country's image on human rights.

We also propose, in good faith, that the government seriously look at strategies geared towards engaging and collaborating with the independent media to enhance and strengthen independent media participation and to enable the expansion of the space for divergent views and healthy debate.