Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Free and Independent Press is the Lifeline of Progress – Minister Cham

Participants @ the training
A free and independent press is the lifeblood of a strong functioning society and a lifeline to progress, say Gambia’s Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Alhagie Cham. 

“Therefore, freedom of expression is very essential in maintaining a form of government that can be trusted by the people it serves,” Mr Cham said, two months after the Gambia Government said it is open to “media reform” during a Commonwealth Forum for Journalists in Banjul.

In a statement read on his behalf by the Director of Information Services, Isatou Davies-Ann during a weeklong training for 20 Gambia journalists on “International Standards on Freedom of Expression”, Mr Cham said “The Government of The Gambia (GoTG) attaches a lot of importance in the development of the media and this is manifested by the proliferation of newspapers and radio stations in recent years.”  

The training course, held at the Gambia Press Union (GPU) Secretariat from October 3-7, 2011, was organised by the Dakar-based regional office of Article 19 in cooperation with the GPU. It is part of a year capacity building programme supported by the 9th European Development Fund for Non-State Actors Strengthening Programme in The Gambia.
It is intended to strengthen the capacity of Gambia media practitioners to deepen their understanding of freedom of expression standards and enhance their ability to contribute to democratic and economic governance in The Gambia. 

Gambia's Information and Communications Infrastructure Minister, Alhagie Cham - Photo by Trevor Grundy

 On Monday, Minister Cham noted that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of journalists; however, he said in as much as the media needs to operate in a free environment they should be responsible, truthful, accurate and impartial in executing their duty to society.

“Our approach to development seeks to build the capacity of governments and the people. The EU obtains funds from tax payers’ money and mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the funds are well utilized,” the European Union (EU) Chargé d’Affairs, Agnes Guilland said.
She noted that is important that for journalists to be aware of their rights and responsibilities and hopes the training will offer them the opportunity deliver effectively in their day-to-day work. “Democracy, universal law and the respect seeks to empower citizens and this is crucial for media practitioners,” she said.

When she took her turn, the Representative of Article19 West Africa, Fatou Jagne Senghore noted the training is one of a series of its kind to be conducted by her office. This will help the participants to better understand international standards on free expression and create room for positive dialogue between the GoTG and the Media.
She noted that the next phase of the programme will deal with “Safety and Security of Journalists” of which 12 of the 20 participants will undertake. She revealed that as part of the programme, efforts are being made to get the Government repeal restrictive media laws and the possible enactment of a “Access to Freedom of Information Law” the Gambia.

“The success and failure of this training depends on how hardworking you are,” the GPU President, Bai Emil Touray said, while urging the participants to step-up their participation and work for the improvement of the Gambia media.

Mr Sam Sarr, Managing Editor of the Foroyaa (Freedom) Newspaper in Gambia, reiterated Minister Cham’s comments, saying journalists should report on events as they unfold and need not invent them. “It calls for impartiality, accuracy and truthfulness,” he stressed. “Without freedom of expression, the media’s right to scrutinize the government cannot take place.”
He also calls on the GoTG to put in place a Freedom of Information (FoI) Law to ensure access to information, one of the major challenges facing journalism in the country. Mr Sarr also challenged the participants to apply what they’ve learnt to their work.

For her part, the European Commission Coordinator of Non-State Actors, Liseli Bull also noted the importance of the course.

The training examined in detail key free expression issues affecting Gambia journalists with interactive case studies ensuring that the theory matches practical exercises (hands-on).  
Article19, a leading global free expression and press freedom watchdog, promotes laws and policies protecting free expression and holding governments and abusers accountable while advocating for legal reforms. Through its legal and policy hot desk, Article19, with its Head Office in London, responds to urgent requests from activists who need support and expert advice across the world.  

  • Author: Modou S. Joof for The Voice Newspaper


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