Tuesday, November 6, 2012

EU GOVERNANCE PROJECT: First step to foster democracy, human rights in Gambia

EUD Offices in The Gambia
“Today’s workshop is the first step in an important programme to foster democracy and human rights, Madam Agnes Guillaud, Chargée d’affaires, EU Delegation to The Gambia said on November 1 during a stakeholders meeting on “Journalists and the Media” held in Bakau.

“The Journalists and the Media Project” is a component of the European Union Delegation (EUD) and Gambian Government joint Governance Programme. 

“One of the fundamental human rights and freedoms is the freedom of expression, and the EU places great importance on supporting the achievement of these universal rights,” said Guillaud at the meeting attended by government officials, publishers, civil society, and journalists leaders (with the exception of the leadership of Gambia Press Union, who choose to boycott the event for reasons best known to them).

The EUD Chargée d’affaires, affirmed her organisation’s resolve “to deepen democracy and the culture of respect for human rights in the Gambia.”

“A professional and free press is essential in a democracy.  Journalists must be allowed to say what they believe readers want and need to know.  They must do so professionally in order to uphold the values of a democracy,” Guillaud stressed.

“This is important in the framework of EU values, which uphold the principles of human rights and the rule of law, to which the Gambian Government has signed up through various UN Conventions,” she noted.
The Gambian media is embattled and have been fighting for survival amid economic and political pressures, The North Bank Evening Standard can tell.

One of the aims of this project is to enable all stakeholders in the media sector to get to know each other, to exchange information and opinions and to come up with creative solutions to overcome the obstacles that both sides perceive hinder a vibrant media sector at the moment.

The EU programme is also intended to support both the Government and media professionals in taking forward their important information and communication roles, and we would like to foster a good and constructive working relationship, added Guillaud.

The €10M programme has three components: Access to Justice and Legal Education; Journalists and Media; and Public Financial Management.

 “Based on the outcomes of this workshop, there will be opportunities for training to maximise your professional skills, be it the journalists, Government communication experts or legal experts – each in their area of expertise. We envisage some of this training to be joint in order to foster good working relationships between all stakeholders in the sector,” said Guillaud.

“We would like to offer a safe environment where ideas can be generated to foster a vibrant media sector.  We recognise that some areas of discussion will be contentious, and we appeal to your common interest to inform your fellow Gambians of developments in the country to cooperate, listen to the other side and engage in a constructive dialogue,” she added.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information, Communication and Infrastructure noted the need for the media to be more professional. “This is a very important meeting in the sense that dialogue is one of the ways out. We will agree at the end of the day even if we disagree initially,” Ms. Nancy Niang said.

“There is responsible and sensational journalism. It is now time we move from sensational journalism to responsible journalism. Unfortunately, when you look at most of the newspapers in the Gambia it is just sensationalism,” she argues.

When she took her turn, Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Representative ARTICLE19 West Africa said her organisation is honoured to be associated with this important exercise whose ultimate goal is to inform future plans and interventions to strengthen journalism and the media sector in the Gambia.

“This gathering offers a unique opportunity to address critical issues that hamper the functioning and development of the media sector. It will openly discuss in a holistic manner ideas and issues that could mitigate the challenges of the sector,” the head of West Africa’s leading free expression and press freedom advocacy agency said.

“As a key to democracy and good governance, the media in order to play its rightful role, needs to be strong, professional, independent and viable,” she stressed.

ARTICLE 19 was contracted by the EU Delegation to the Gambia to conduct an independent assessment, meet key actors and organize a meeting for key stakeholders from the government, the media and civil society to have a platform to exchange and contribute with a view to setting the agenda for future plans of media development in the country.

“Inclusive public consultation enables people to contribute to national debate and give to government the opportunity to get feedbacks and cater for the needs of its population. Beyond this work, ARTICLE 19 will continue to support freedom of expression and access to public interest information in the Gambia,” Fatou Jagne Senghore noted.

Regarding the current beleaguered media situation in the tiny West African country, both the Government of the Gambia and the Media are found wanting in a preliminary report draft by Hamadou Tidiane Sy, a senior media expert and trainer. Mr. Sy led an ARTICLE 19 assessment mission in the Gambia from 8 to 12 October 2012.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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