Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Brief History of The Gambia Press Union (GPU)

DA Jawo
The Gambia Press Union was founded in 1978 by a group of journalists in the private media, replacing the moribund Gambia Journalists Association. It became the sole organization representing Gambian journalists and among its objectives was to promote media freedom, professionalism and ethics.

Among its founding members were the late William Dixon-Colley, the late Deyda Hydara, and the late M. B. Jones. The only surviving member of that pioneering group is Pap Saine.

The GPU has had a chequered history. While its founder members were quite determined to attract as many journalists as possible, it was virtually impossible to attract journalists in the government media, which was then Radio Gambia and the Gambia News Bulletin; because not only did they not have the courage to become members, but the Union was seen in some official quarters as being synonymous with the opposition, apparently because most of its original members were also newspaper owners/publishers who often criticized the government.

Therefore, for quite a long time, the GPU continued to operate with a very small membership without even a secretariat of its own. At the beginning, meetings were held at the offices of The Nation newspaper on Boxbar Road in Banjul.

However, as the membership increased, meetings were held at the BCC office in Banjul until in 1997 when, with the help of the American Embassy in Banjul, the GPU got its first secretariat on Atlantic Boulevard. It was of course thanks to efforts by the late Deyda Hydara who was then the president.

While the GPU was operating with very meager resources, due to the determination of its small corps of dedicated members, the Union, through the help of donors, undertook many training programmes, with the sole objective of upgrading the professionalism of Gambian journalists.

Though the atmosphere during the First Republic was no doubt more media-friendly, the GPU had a few open confrontations with the former PPP regime. One such confrontation was when the government attempted to set up a media regulatory body; the National Press Council.

While the bill was passed by the House of Representatives and even assented to by President Jawara, the GPU stood its ground by insisting on not registering with such a council because of its draconian nature. It was indeed quite reminiscent of the famous National Media Commission which was created by the Jammeh administration in 1994 and which the GPU again fought against and won.

Indeed, the GPU has come a very long way to what it is today, with a well equipped secretariat and a fairly sizeable membership.

In terms of leadership, M.B. Jones was succeeded by Deyda Hydara who stood down for Demba Jawo. After serving a two-term presidency, Mr Jawo handed over to Mr Madi M.K. Ceesay who stepped down in 2008 for Ms Ndey Tapha Sosseh, the first female president of the Union.

By Demba Ali Jawo (Former President of the GPU) @ the Gambia Press Union Triennial Congress June 24-26, 2011.

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