By Modou Joof
The Gambia Press Union, with support from the British Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is implementing a project aimed at strengthening ongoing efforts at building national consensus on Access to Information (ATI) and media self-regulation.
The project seeks to address public misconceptions about ATI and media freedom and contributes to reform of laws, policies and practices to enable and ensure free flow of information and responsible journalism.
Activities under this three-month project began on Monday, 8th February, 2021 with a nationwide sensitization tour on ATI and media self-regulation.
“The access to information bill was submitted to the National Assembly in December 2019, and we are hopeful that it will be passed into law soon,” GPU President, Sheriff Bojang Jr., said at the opening of the sensitisation tour in Banjul on Monday. “If this happens, it will be a great achievement for this country and citizens in our quest for democracy and progress.”
The seven-day nationwide tour is being facilitated by two teams from the CSO Coalition on ATI, with one team covering regions in the provinces while the other team focuses on regions in urban Gambia – Banjul and West Coast Region.
There will be two fora in each of the seven administrative regions of the country and participants will include area councillors, traditional women singers, youth representatives, and regional authorities.
John Charles Njie, Chairperson, CSO Coalition, said when a country is in transition, it needs a basis to move to the next stage. “And one of the foundations that we need as a country is to have an access to information law,” he said.
The Gambian process of developing the draft ATI bill started in 2016 with the GPU rallying more than 50 civil society organisations to ensure it was inclusive, and today, a CSO Coalition on Access to Information is the face and force behind the bill.
British High Commissioner to Banjul, David Belgrove, said an access to information law is a very powerful tool; it is one that is essential in any democracy.
“Any public body should be accountable to the people, and that’s not just media, it is not just civil society, individuals as well. This is a very important step in consolidating the Gambia’s democracy which your people struggled so hard to achieve,” he said in his keynote address on Monday. “Transparency is absolutely essential.”
The National Assembly Member for Banjul South, Fatoumatta Njie, said “it is an honour to be here [in Banjul] talking about a bill that is very close to my heart, because I do advocate for freedom of information and democracy.”
“Without an access to information law, you can’t hold your elected representatives accountable. Personally, I want public information requests be made available both in hard and soft copies,” Hon. Njie said.