The Gambia Press Union in collaboration with the Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information, on Thursday began a two-day seminar on Access to Information in Elections for 45 media professionals and civil society activists.
The workshop, held at the Baobab Hotel from the 25th to 26th February, 2021, is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. It is aimed at sensitizing the media and civil society actors on access to information (ATI) in elections and also popularize the ACHPR guidelines on elections.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Muhammed S. Bah, the Vice President of the Gambia Press Union, said as the 2021 elections draws closer, access to information becomes a key component of the electoral process.
“Access to election-related information is crucial to the integrity of electoral processes in any democracy, particularly our emerging democracy,” Bah said. “ATI empowers the electorates to make well-informed choices and also enhance transparency and accountability during elections.”
According Bah, The Gambia is one of a few English-speaking West African countries without an ATI Law. The right to access information is guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right as an ‘invaluable’ component of democracy.
He added that GPU and the Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information are urging the Parliament to pass the ATI bill.
“The aim of this workshop is to sensitize civil society activists and the media on the pending ATI bill and electoral reforms, with the hope that they would champion the campaign by way of engaging both the public and National Assembly Members to help push for the enactment of the bill,” Bah said.
In his address, John Charles Njie, Chairman of the CSO’s Coalition on ATI, said that there is need for citizens to access information. However, he was quick to add that, it goes with the requisite understanding of how to report and handle information in order to avoid spreading disinformation.
“…and that’s why we are having this engagement to be able to throw light, to be able to come on the same page and have a better understanding of accessing information especially when we get into the election campaign period and everything that has to do with election,” Njie said.
Rod Hawes, Executive Director of Gambia Federation of the Physically Disabled, said the plight of persons with disabilities should be considered in the access to information bill. Hawes said The Gambia has more than 10% of people living with disabilities, based on research from the Global Journal of Science Frontier.
“Access to information for the disable community is no different from access to information by anyone else. What we do noticed is that we do not get any short of, or particular information,” he said.
Hawes added that at the moment they are loosely in consultation with the independent Electoral Commission on a number of issues.
Honorable Halifa Sallah, the Chairman of the Interparty Committee, said the media plays a key role in promoting democracy. He urged journalists to desists from hear-say and encourage them to always fact-check the information they are putting out.
Sainabou Drammeh, a Program Officer at the Gambia Press Union, said the workshop is part of a project called Improving Transparency and Accountability in Electoral Processes in Africa - a joint project between Zambia, Uganda and The Gambia funded by NED.
Ms Drammeh also presented the findings of an assessment of the existing legal framework on ATI against the African Commission Guidelines on Access to Information. She guided participants on how to fill an information requests form, which would be processed by the GPU on their behalf.
During the course of the two days, the participants were taken through the role of civil society on access to information in elections as well as the ACHPR Guidelines on elections. Journalists and CSO activists shared their experiences on accessing information in elections at Plenary discussions and information sharing sessions.