Gambia’s parliament challenged over harsh media laws


Baboucarr Ceesay
1st Vice President Gambia Press Union

By Gambia Watchdog Writer

The 1st Vice President of Gambia Press Union (GPU), Baboucarr Ceesay has lamented the harsh media laws passed by the country’s National Assembly to punish journalists instead of enlarging freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

He said increasing the newspaper registration bond from D100, 000 (2,491.47 USD) to D500, 000 (12,437.84 USD) amounts to restricting freedom of the press unnecessarily because people who cannot afford this bond would not be able to own a media house.

He presented a paper ‘The Role of Media in Effective Social Audit’ at a Regional Outreach Forum for National Assembly members for Central River Region (CRR) and Upper River Region (URR), at the Regional head office of Ministry of Education, Janjanbureh, CRR from 26 to 29 May 2014.

The theme for the outreach forum was, “National Assembly Members’ Representative, Legislative and Oversight Functions Under Social Audit.”

Ceesay further stated that there is lack of access to information and phobia towards the media practitioners with lack of adequate capacity building on parliamentary issues which could have been facilitated by the National Assembly as a partner to the media.

Role of media in effective social audit
He noted that the role of the media in effective social audit is very significant if not indispensable in a democratic state.

“As the fourth estate and watchdog of society, the media can be very instrumental in the process of reviewing official records and determining whether state reported expenditures reflect the actual monies spent on the ground,” he stated.

The GPU 1st vice president said apart from monetary aspect, the media can play its watch role in measuring, understanding, reporting for the ultimate improvement of the National Assembly’s social, political and ethical performance.

The way forward
On the way forward, he called on the National Assembly to create a committee for the welfare of journalists.

He added that the creation of more capacity building opportunities for journalists, valuing journalists and provide them with the logistics on time will also make their job easier.

He also urged deputies to be releasing valuable information to journalists in the ultimate interest of the public, enlarge freedom of expression and freedom of the press by reviewing and repealing harsh media laws and encourage investigative journalism.

Words of the constitution
He reminded the deputies that section 207 subsection (3) of 1997 of the Constitution of The Gambia says “The press and other information media shall at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this constitution, and the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of The Gambia.”

Ceesay said journalists at the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) are facing a lot of difficulties in executing their work because their hands are tied and mouths partly sealed in terms of allowing critical views to be broadcast on the state broadcaster.

He pointed out that it is encapsulated in section 208 of the 1997 Constitution that “All state owned newspapers, journals, radio and television shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.”

Buttressing the significance of the media, Baboucarr quoted Thomas Jefferson former American leader and the primary drafter of American Declaration for Independence who said if he were to choose between government without newspaper or newspaper without government he will choose the latter without hesitation.

Capacity building
On capacity building, he said for the media to perform this role professionally, media practitioners need adequate capacity building.

According to him, in November 2008 the National Assembly of The Gambia, through its United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Capacity Building Development Project sponsored five journalists, from both the print and electronic media, to undertake a three-week training course on parliamentary reporting, at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, in Ghana.

He informed the gathering that beneficiaries of the training were Alhagie Jobe, former deputy editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer; Abba Gibba, a sub- editor at The Point newspaper; Famara Fofana, Mama Jaye and Nuha Badjie of GRTS radio and television

He said the 2008 training in Ghana covered legal and ethical implications of media coverage, investigative reporting, techniques of interviews, amongst others.

“Similar training opportunities can still be provided so as to widen the horizon of the media practitioners to effectively carry out their noble duties,” opined Ceesay.

Response of deputies

Instead of opening questions and answers from the various speakers as started the presentation by Ceesay on behalf of the media was like a tear on the flesh of the some members of the parliament speak in a bunch-back manner.

In response to the Ceesay’s presentation, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly Fatou Mbaye said the presentation was superb but responsible journalism was not highlighted.

She also said that too much of freedom can bring about chaos if people are allowed to say all they deem fit to speak about.

Captain Lamin Saine, former director of National Intelligence Agency and nominated member of the National Assembly said Thomas Jefferson’s preference to newspapers with a government does not stop the existence of government in the United States.

According to Saine, Americans have ignored the concept of Thomas Jefferson.

He said where someone’s rights ends is where another person’s rights begin.

He said the constitution of The Gambia has provided for freedom of expression where journalists can write and say what they want. He said journalism has been here since time immemorial because whatever happened used to be talked about.

The majority leader of the National Assembly Fabakary Tombong Jatta said that there are certain reports that can create instability in the country. He said there is public order, public morality which should also be protected. He said the rights of media practitioner go with responsibilities.

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