Scores of journalists have expressed dissatisfaction with the supposed screening process of journalists by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) before acquiring accreditation from the State House.
This comes after an official of the State House notified the journalists who have recently applied for accreditation from the State House that they would be called by agents of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
Amie Bojang-Sissoho, the Director of Press and Public Relation, when asked for the justification of such move referred this reporter to a policy document they had shared with the media before.
The policy document indicated that there is lack of a clear direction regarding the management of media accreditation at the state house. The document also noted the need to engage the media in order to minimize unfounded rumours and create greater awareness.
The document hinted that members of the media, journalists, and correspondents cleared to be stationed at the State House to cover the engagements of the President, State House events, and media briefings, referred to as State House Press Corps, may be stationed or housed within state house.
According to the document, "Where possible, they should be stationed or housed on the premises of the State House to be able to cover activities therein in a timely fashion." Nothing is stated explicitly in the document to show why screening of journalists is necessary.
Regarding access, the position of the office of the DPPR is clear. It states: "Access would only be given to licensed and non-licensed news organizations whose principal business is the daily dissemination of original news and opinions that are of interest to a broad segment of the public. However, authorization is at the discretion of the Office of the President and must be in line with the requirements set out in this policy."
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in a press release dated the 27th March 2019 has stated that the office of the Director of Press and Public Relations (DPPR) at the Office of the President has requested media practitioners to undergo screening at the NIA as part of procedures for press accreditation to cover events at the State House.
The Secretary-General of the GPU, Mr. Saikou Jammeh in an alert stated that they have engaged the office of the DPPR about the issue. He said they were informed the procedure is a measure that the State House put in place for a standard procedure for press accreditation.
Saikou Jammeh, SG, GPU
"Notwithstanding, the GPU wishes to call on all media professionals to wait until the Union exhausts all consultations with a view to ensuring that the new measures do not compromise the freedoms and safety of media professionals," he stressed.
He promised that the Executive of the Union will continue to engage the Office of the DPPR on this and other important matters.
On his part, Demba Kandeh, the head of training and a lecturer at the University of The Gambia said what the Office of the press should do it could to engage the GPU about the matter. He said the journalists in the Gambia have bad past experiences in the 22-year rule of the former government.
He said so far as it is a standard that the State House wants to put in place, the office of the DPPR should do so balancing it with the freedom of the press. He added that he does not have much information about the reasons why the State House wants journalists to be screened by the NIA and promised to make more findings of the issue.
A trainer and trainer at the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC), Mr. Modou Joof said it is not a good idea to have journalists undergo background checks with the NIA before they are granted accreditations to cover State House functions.
Mr. Modou Joof
He said: "considering the history of the Agency's relationship with journalists in the previous regime (arrests, detention, torture), such a process could have a chilling effect on press freedom in particular and freedom of expression in general.
"Such an intimidating approach to securing press passes could also affect effective media coverage of the presidency and government functions," Joof said.
He called on the office of the DPPR to drop this idea in the interest of press freedom.
Muhammed S. Bah, an assistant editor of Foroyaa Newspaper has confirmed to Foroyaa that he was called from the office of the DPPR about the matter; that the NIA will call him to go for screening.
He said this is not fear to the press considering the relationship between the media and the NIA. He added that the NIA was used by the former government to torture and unlawfully detained journalists.
Amadou Jallow, a senior journalist and an editor of a daily newspaper in the Gambia said he supposes that this is a strategy to stop critical journalists from covering functions at the State House.
He said he has been reporting from the State House for 7 years during the reign of ex-President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh.
"The only card I used to produce was my office press card. We were not subjected to screening at the NIA," Jallow asserted.
He called on the office of DPPR to rescind from this move and continue with the procedure that was there. He stressed that the office of the DPPR should be allowed and empowered to do the screening process.
"This is an attempt to identify journalists who they fear may be critical to the government," he said.
Other journalists opined that the issue of screening should be critically looked into. Many suggested that the office of the DPPR in collaboration with the GPU should be allowed and empowered to handle the screening. Many called for the process of screening to be boycotted.