Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Human Rights Journalists On Judicial Independence

Highlights of the Training Working Groups 

VOL:1 ISSN:40 Journalists who were attending the recently concluded Training on human rights, freedom of expression and the law have on Tuesday 22nd December 2009 highlighted on issues affecting judicial independence, work of the law enforcement agents, freedom of expression and the relationship between the media and civil society.
The training, which lasted four days (21st to 24th December, 2009) brought together 50 Journalists and was organised by the Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ) - The Gambia and funded by the American Embassy through the Ambassador's Special Help Project (Human Rights and Democracy Fund).
Issues of judicial independence were raised during the group work and as Group One reports, the challenges facing the judicial system in The Gambia. The group outlined that factors such as lack of security of tenure; lack of enough resources (salaries, allowances etc); executive interference; noncompliance with Court orders by the authorities and delay in court proceedings are some of the challenges facing The Gambian Judiciary. 
For Law Enforce Agents, group one said that the lack of proper knowledge of the law; law enforcement agents being politically inclined and nepotism in the security enforcement are among other challenges facing law enforcements agents in The Gambia.
The Journalists also look at the lack of adequate facilities in prisons; poor prison conditions (food and shelter) and the lack of proper medical attention as the challenges facing Gambian prisons.
They also identified the Communication Act; Parts of the Criminal Code; Official Secret Act and the Media Amendment Act as national laws that are infringing fundamental rights.
Group One recommended that the above issues can be sorted when the removal of judges by authorities be in compliance with the Constitutional provisions; allocate adequate funds for the judiciary in the national budget; separation of powers in the three arms of government be respected and parties should respect, obey and comply with court orders.
For law enforcement agents, they recommended that there should be a proper and timely investigation of allege crimes in order to avoid public interest; impartiality of law enforcement agents and to provide capacity building for security agents and the people from the grassroot to the top on the laws (bottom-top approach).
On prisons, they seemed to be short recommendations but at least charged that prison officials should comply with prison rules and prisoners be provided with proper medical attention, as well as good food and shelter.
The group also agreed that all actors of the society need to participate in enacting laws, for their best interest; the Criminal Code Act be repealed and replaced with an appropriate bill to be enacted and the Official Secret Act be amended to suit those it affects, as a proper way of dealing with laws that infringe rights.
Group Two dealt with Media Relation with Society under which the responsibility of the media should be to educate, entertain and to inform the society based on accuracy and objectivity. On the part of society, they argued that the society should give timely and accurate information to the media; break the culture of silence by speaking to the media on issues affecting them;
Showing solidarity to the media and to know and understand what the role of the media is.
This Group also highlighted some problems between the media and the society on the grounds of ignorance, where the society do not have adequate knowledge of their rights and responsibilities towards the media; misconception towards the media; irresponsible journalism; false publication; cheque book journalism and bias reporting.
To this end, the Group recommended that there is the need for continuous capacity building for media practitioners; foster dialogue between the media and society; partnership in the media and an independent media (no political interference), as the solution to the above.
On Media and the Law, the group observed that harsh media laws (sedition, libel, defamation, false publication etc); lack of freedom of information and regulatory provision for the issuance of broadcasting license to media outlets are among the challenges facing the media in respect to the law.
On improving the existing situation, the group suggests that government-media relations need to be improved; hostile laws be abolished; culture of responsible journalism to prevail at all times and public awareness should be raise through the media.
For Group Three, the civil society should be engaged to challenge constitutional provisions that infringe the rights to freedom of expression, the press and to exercise their rights; sensitisation and training of journalists on matters related to the law; massive awareness campaign through the media; constructive dialogue with the government on repressive laws that infringe thje rights of journalists and freedom of speech.
The added that the international community and security officers need to be engaged; to intensify coverage of the media houses on freedom of expression; promote cooperation amongst media personnel; and printing leaflets, giving it out free and spot announcement by electronic media.
These were observations, suggestions and recommendations discussed by human rights journalists in their various working groups during the four-day training workshop.

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