Editors of various media houses and some representatives from different civil society organisations were on Thursday 25th February, 2021 gathered for a day-long workshop at a local hotel to sensitize them on the access to information bill which is already tabled before the national assembly in 2019.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, vice president of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Muhammed S. Bah, said the key component of any democratic society is access to information.
Bah said access to information is crucial to election integrity, particularly to The Gambia's emerging democracy. He opined that members of the national assembly and the population should see the access to information bill as a "lifesaving machine."
Bah said The Gambia is one of the countries in West Africa without an access to information law. He said this gave birth to the coalition between GPU and CSOs to ensure legislation of such a law.
"At regional level, right to access information is guaranteed by Article19 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights," he said.
According to him, the aim of the workshop was to sensitize media editors and civil society organisations about the bill that is still hanging at the national assembly awaiting consideration.
"GPU has concluded assessment of the access to information bill with stakeholders like Independent Electoral Commission, political parties, media and media regulatory body as well as civil society organisations and the security sector," MS Bah indicated.
Chairman of the media-civil society coalition, John Charles Njie, challenged the country's media practitioners to have passion to verify information obtained before they are published for public consumption.
He also challenged the civil society groups to do the same, citing some devastating effects that passing wrong information can cause in a given society, particularly during election.
According to him, the media has in one way or the other participated in some societal unrest happening around the world.
"Despite the coalition struggles to achieve access to information law, it is common knowledge that information can bring peace but on the other hand, it can cause chaos in a country. Civil society groups and media, you are going to be very key in ensuring that we have not only a successful election in 2021, but a peaceful one so that when there is time for transition, we can have a peaceful transition," said Chairman Njie.
He encouraged the participants to paint the country's image in good colour than a bad one.
A representative from differently abled group, Mr Rod Hawes, spoke about the importance of access to information for the differently abled persons.
Hawes also highlighted some of the challenges affecting differently abled persons from being elected as national assembly members as well as access to voting booths.
Halifa Sallah, national assembly member for Serekunda, who doubles as Chairman of the Inter-party Committee, described the point on which he was assigned to talk about as the corner stone for human survival.
Sallah said the convergent is meant to see the coalition between democracy and information and the relevance of the two in the promotion of the evolution of the electoral processes.
He said the three are linked and people must interrogate it together.
"My duty is to educate clearly on what information is all about, the essence of the electoral system and the relevance of information regarding the existence of the system, bringing out what is most important for the participants to bear in mind with a view to indicate the way forward," he said.