The international Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in collaboration with the Gambia Press Union and FLARE on Tuesday 20th of September 2011 opened a four day training workshop on election reporting for media practitioners at the Gambia Press Union Secretariat at 5 Garba Jahumpa Road in Fajara.
Mr. Alieu Famara Sagnia, the ICFJ country director in the Gambia welcomed all the participants at the meeting. He said it is a great pleasure for him to welcome journalists to the workshop on election reporting; adding that the whole idea of this programme started in 2010 when the International Center for journalists received funding from the US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and launched a media capacity building program in the Gambia in collaboration with the Gambia Press Union and the Foundation for Legal Aid Research and Empowerment (FLARE).
The country director said the program is a twenty month program, indicating that the GPU together with FLARE and ICFJ are main partners jointly implementing the media capacity building program in the Gambia. ICFJ, he added, is a US based non profit, professional organization, which works to promote quality journalism worldwide. He said the ICFJ now offers a new online service called the IjNet and has invited journalists to explore and benefit from the resource which provides up to date information on opportunities for journalists.
He said the GPU is the main trade union for journalists in The Gambia, indicating that FLARE is a registered human rights civil society organization which, among other things, conducts civic awareness programs in the country.
The country director indicated that the purpose of the workshop is to enhance the skills of journalists, reporters and editors, working in this country as well strengthening the association which represents them.
He adds that the focus on the election reporting is on how to cover and report on elections, with emphasis on internationally recommended best practices. He said it is also meant to train journalists and prepare the media houses they represent for effective coverage and reporting of the presidential election of 24th November 2011 as well as future elections in the country.
For his part, Almami Taal, president of the Foundation for Legal Aid Research advised journalists to make use of the World Wide Web, indicating that it is a place for acquiring good information. Mr. Taal said journalists should engage in responsible reporting during elections because tribalism is something that encourages violence. He cited the upheavals that wreck havoc in Rwanda, Kenya, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
Emil Touray, the president of the Gambia Press Union gave an inspiring speech on behalf of the Union at the opening of the training workshop for election reporters. The GPU President said he is delighted to be associated with such an important program where journalists are being trained on election reporting. This, he said, is of importance to the union. He noted that it is always important to train journalists on such matters as it will go a long way in helping them on how to cover and report on elections.
The GPU President said this is something they as executive members of the Union were pondering over some time back. He said journalists have a right to report on issues, but they should do so responsibly.
Mr. Touray cited provisions in the Gambian constitution to support his presentation. According to Touray, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that every person has right to have access to information; adding that journalists too have a right to have access to information. Continuing, Touray urged the participants to study the provisions in the Election Act, the Gambian constitution and the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Good Governance and Democracy as this will help them to know how to report on the forthcoming elections. The Independent Electoral Commission, he said, has a code of ethics for election campaign. He advised journalists to read this code of ethics since this will help them know whether the political parties are adhering to the rules set aside by the IEC.
Touray urged journalists to desist from reporting anything that is likely to disturb the peace. In his view, hate speech has no place in a news item. Going further, Touray told journalists that they should not write stories that may ignite tribal, racial and xenophobic tensions. He cited the post election violence in Kenya; adding that it is immoral and wrong for a journalist to use his pen to promote violence. Politicians, he said, sometimes make statements that are critical of an ethnic group, religion or race; adding that a progressive journalist should censure those remarks.
Mr. Said Yusuf, CEO Top link and Publisher of Market Place Business News magazine moderated the opening ceremony.