|Almamy Fanding Taal, Chairperson FLARE|
The foundation for legal aid, research and empowerment (FLARE) in cooperation with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) on May 14, 2011 held a seminar on “Press Freedom”.
Hosted by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) in Bakau, FLARE said the seminar is in recognition of the importance of World Press Freedom Day and free expression in the fulfillment of the human rights and development of the people of The Gambia.
This year, world press freedom day was marked under the theme “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”. The event marks the twentieth anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom in Africa and the tenth anniversary of the African Broadcasting Charter.
The UN General Assembly have since declared May 3, 2011 as world press freedom day aimed at reminding governments of their duties to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On Saturday, the ICFJ Country Director Mr. Alieu Famara Sagnia said his institution has since last year embarked on a 20 months project which came as an activity for the benefit of Gambian journalists.
According to him, the project aims at improving the media in The Gambia while working closely with the Gambia Press Union and FLARE in this cause. We plan to hold a series of programmes like this one, including an election reporting training in June 2011, he explained.
Presenting a paper on “Media Laws in The Gambia – Prospects and Challenges”, the Chairperson of FLARE Mr. Almamy Fanding Taal reiterated that the country is still maintaining criminal laws in its statue book which originate from the colonial rule.
“You have a whole system that does not satisfy anybody, you see in the courts where lawyers give tangible arguments yet people are denied bail,” he lamented.
“Justice is about something that is tangible; it is a more organic thing than what the courts are offering as at now.”
He added: “Many people think they can get justice by going to the courts, as a lawyer and a former judge, I can tell you that you can get some redress but not justice.”
Mr. Taal also noted that there is a need to put in place laws that will give people dignified lives by serving their interest and not necessarily the contrary.
He said for a community to be successful, its needs laws that will serve its interest. For instance, when we make a law on blasphemy, we should realise that this country is a secular state where people of faiths, atheists, and free thinkers amongst others are living.
In a presentation on the “Role of the Media in National Development”, Mr. Madi Jobarteh, the Coordinator of FLARE made reference to the constitutional mandate of the media as the fourth estate of government and its watchdog role.
He said the media should investigate governments and its agencies on the policies they initiate and how tax payers’ money is being spent to ensure transparency.
He said: “The media should also ensure that rights are respected; protected and fulfilled, ensure good governance and result-based management; check quality and cost of services on the private sector; raise and protect community interest by highlighting conditions and cost of living.”
Mr. Jobarteh also recognised the importance of the media in national development and attributed the success of liberty and democracy struggles around the world to the press being used as a major tool to achieve this.
He said it is in respect for free expression and of the press that the first Amendment in 1971 of the United States Constitution restricted congress from abridging laws that will restrict freedom of the press and speech.
On a brief about flare, he said its vision is to see “a prosperous and stable society in which individuals and communities enjoy socio-economic and political rights based on the principles of the rule of law, respect for human rights and accountable and inclusive governance”.
Mission: “Flare is a human rights institution providing legal services to the poor and the disadvantaged and aims to promote and protect human rights… expanding the democratic space through civic education and empowerment…”