The Point (Banjul)

Gambia: GPU Says Space for Free and Vibrant Media Shrinking

In spite of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, the space for a free and vibrant independent media in The Gambia continues to be shrinking, the Gambia Press Union has said.

In a statement issued to mark World Press Freedom Day, which is to be commemorated across the world on Friday 3rd May 2013, the union calls on the Gambia government to critically reflect on the dire situation confronting the media and journalists in this country with a view to reviewing policies, laws and the entire political environment so as to create and expand the space for freedom of expression and a free press to flourish.

'This would augur well for national development, which would also earn the Government more respect as it will be seen to be acting in line with the constitution and in fulfilment of the obligations placed on The Gambia by regional and international instruments ratified by our Government,' the union said.

Below we reproduce the full text of the GPU statement on World Press Freedom Day:

Introduction

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. This day was set aside by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 following a recommendation adopted at the 26th session of UNESCO's General Conference in 1991, as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press.

This Seminar took place in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991, and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media. The Windhoek Declaration called for the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press and emphasized the importance of a free press to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.

Following this development, journalists and media practitioners the world over have been celebrating the day in different forms.

World Press Freedom Day presents an opportunity for journalists and media practitioners to reflect on the challenges they grapple with on a daily basis with a view to hammering out solutions to such problems. It also presents an opportunity for journalists to not only pay tribute to the martyrs of free expression and media freedom, but to also reward those who have made significant contributions to the advancement of a free, independent and pluralistic press.

Policy Dialogue

The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2013 is "Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media." In partnership with The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO) and The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), The Gambia Press Union will convene a policy dialogue on freedom of expression with the above theme starting 10:00am sharp (No Gambian Time) at the TANGO Conference Hall, Fajara on Friday 3 May 2013.

We bring this theme to a national context by organizing the first-ever policy dialogue on Freedom of Expression with a view to engaging the Government and other stakeholders in a frank discussion on the necessity of a free and vibrant media for the promotion of good and accountable governance, the promotion of human rights and sustainability development in The Gambia.

The aim of the discussion is to engage in an analytical overview of the media situation in The Gambia and its ramifications on national development. The discussions will focus on the political and economic space for a free and vibrant independent media in the country. This will raise the question as to how the Government as the primary duty bearer can create the necessary enabling environment to reflect the fact that freedom of expression is a catalyst to sustainable socio-economic development.

This Policy Dialogue will, therefore, provide a unique opportunity for policy and decision makers, researchers, students, development workers and journalists and indeed the general populace to get a better understanding of the media environment in the Gambia. It seeks to promote knowledge creation and dissemination and offers the Government and the media the opportunity to also engage meaningfully in the quest for results-based national development.

It is obvious that freedom of expression and a free media are fundamental building blocks of democracy, and the gateway to the realization of many other human rights. Freedom of expression allows space for change and innovation; supports transparency and deters corruption; exposes human rights violations; and ensures that public institutions as well as private sector firms are efficient and effective in delivering goods and services that meet high standards, and are affordable and accessible by the general public.

The role of the media in national development is therefore critical and immense. Yet, for there to flourish a free press, it is essential that in the first place there exists the policy, legal and institutional environment for freedom of expression. In other words, free speech is the gauge by which we can determine the level of free press in any society.

Conversely free press reflects the level of freedom citizens enjoy in the exercise of their right to publicly and freely express their views and opinions. In fact the Constitution of the Gambia in Section 25 guarantees freedom of expression, while Section 207 requires the media to be independent as well as to hold the Government accountable to the people of the Gambia. Section 208 even went further to demand the public media, i.e. GRTS and Gambia Now newspaper to, "afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinion".

In spite of these constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, the space for a free and vibrant independent media in The Gambia continues to be shrinking. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, GPU wishes to once again call on the Gambia Government to critically reflect on the dire situation confronting the media and journalists in this country with a view to reviewing policies, laws and the entire political environment so as to create and expand the space for freedom of expression and a free press to flourish. This would augur well for national development, which would also earn the Government more respect as it will be seen to be acting in line with the constitution and in fulfilment of the obligations placed on the Gambia by regional and international instruments ratified by our Government.

In the light of the foregoing and in demonstration of our good will, GPU has agreed to have the new Minister of Information Nana Grey Johnson deliver a statement at the policy dialogue on the role and responsibility of the Gambia Government in promoting and protecting freedom of expression and media within the framework of national development.

There are two discussants. The Managing Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper Sam Sarr who will speak on the law and the media, highlighting the rights and responsibilities of the media.

From the civil society sector, Lamin Nyangado from ActionAid International The Gambia will deliver a paper on the role of the media in policy making and development processes, focusing on the linkages, roles and tools necessary and available for the media in The Gambia.

In celebration of World Press Freedom Day and in view of the theme for this year, GPU wishes to express its appreciation to all Gambians for their support of the media community. We wish to also commend our media practitioners in the television and radio stations and newspapers, as well as online journalists for their steadfastness and professionalism in spite of the difficult challenges we continue to face.

With our partners, GPU would like to call on the Gambia Government, the private sector and the civil society as a whole to support the independence, development and professionalism of the media as well as freedom of expression in The Gambia. Such gesture will not only serve to strengthen the peace and stability of the country, but will also enhance national development in all aspects, thereby making delivery of public services more efficient, accessible and available to all. GPU strongly believes that we can only ensure good and accountable governance and make public and private institutions and firms effective and relevant if we create the environment for free speech and free media to flourish at all times.

The Policy Dialogue is open to the general public.

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