Banjul, The Gambia (TNBES) The Ministry of Communication on Monday 3rd May 2010 witnessed this year’s world press freedom day celebration through its Deputy Permanent Secretary, being the first time The Gambia Government honored her invitation marking this day.
Top government officials has on many occasion turn down the Gambia Press Union invitation on such gatherings, however the presence of the Ministry of Communication this time and that of the State TV, Gambia Radio and Television Services, is a sign that Government-Media relationship is gradually moving towards a positive trend.
In previous events and years, government officials who attended GPU activities have always been dominated by opposition personnel and National Assembly Members.
The theme for this year’s celebration was ‘Freedom of Information – The Right to know’.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary Ministry of Communication, Binta Singhateh in her complementary statement said the theme of the celebration marking World Press Freedom Day is in line with section 207 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia.
She also called on her colleagues in the media to follow the guiding principles in practicing their profession, as in truth, fairness, humanity and development.
Speaking on the topic “Threats to Media Freedom and Freedom of Information in Africa”, Mr. Alieu Sanyang, former Director of Information Services said the Authoritarian States in Africa poses the greatest threats to media freedom.
“Apart from placing obstacles in the way of the media to render it ineffective in fulfilling its watchdog mandate, we are all aware of authoritarian regimes’ insistence on controlling the media, as well as how they misuse the media in Africa,” Mr. Sanyang said.
In The Gambia, he noted that threats to media freedom include the Newspaper Registration Act and the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2004, which provides for the offence of false publication whether in print or broadcasting, as well as offences of sedition and defamation.
He said the government came with more stringent media laws after it was compelled to repeal the National Media Commission Act 2002, largely through a sustained campaign against the Act spearheaded by the Gambia Press Union (GPU), its local and international allies.
Another threat he said was the official Secret Act, a colonial law which was retained in the laws of The Gambia during the dawn of the Second Republic when the government embarked on making civil servants sworn under the Oath of Secrecy.
“We also recall that there was a Circular to the then Government Printer reminding them of the danger of printing non-government publications should they be taken to court for defamation; and we understand that the private printers, becoming aware of the possible consequences also avoided printing the independent newspapers,” he recalled.
He said media companies and proprietors must have a world view and strive towards its realisation, arguing that the press cannot be neutral in society especially in the contest between good and evil, truth versus manipulation, justice and injustice.
He also noted that ignorance and carelessness of media practitioners can as well be a threat to media freedom.
On Freedom of Information as a Tool for Empowerment, the Executive Director of the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO) noted that the role of journalists is to inform the public, thereby empowering them.
“The media is also empowered by the Constitution to hold government accountable to the public,” he said.
He added that information awareness helps empower people, but if one controls information, the person dictates the way you act. He also said that the essence of democracy and human rights is to ensure freedom of information.
According to him, freedom of information is also in the interest of the government, thus it should make sure that citizens have the right to access information.
The Proprietor of Radio 1 FM, George Christensen also spoke on the topic ‘Freedom of Information – the Right to know in the Digital Age’.
During open discussions, the National Assembly Member for Kiang Central, Lower River region, Babanding KK Daffeh noted that lawmakers are here to serve the interest of the people.
Honorable Daffeh challenge the GPU to come up with a Private Member Bill and put it forward to the National Assembly. “What is holding the GPU from bringing a Private Member Bill to the National Assembly,” he asked.