By Therese Gomez
The Gambia Press union (GPU) in collaboration with the National Commission for UNESCO (NATCOM) and the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC) on May 14, 2022 held a symposium to commemorate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) at the Auditorium of the University of The Gambia.
WPFD is observed every year on the 3rd of May to raise awareness of the importance of the freedom of the press and to also serve as a reminder to governments to respect their duty and uphold the right to freedom of expression and prevent attacks on the media’s independence.
This year’s global theme is “Journalism under Digital Siege”. Co-funded by UNESCO and the GPU, this year’s WPFD was marked under the Day under the theme “Journalism under Digital Siege – The Gambia’s quest for Recovery of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information” to reflect and shine light on the situation of the local media and the press freedom environment.
Media Law Reform
The GPU President, Muhammed S. Bah, commended the Gambia Government, particularly the former ministers of information, and justice, for their collaborations with the GPU since 2017 which has led to improvements in policy and practice concerning press freedom and freedom of expression.
However, he reminded the government that journalist still work under the threat of draconian media laws some of which dates back to the colonial era while others have been inherited from the dictatorship era.
Some of these laws, reviewed in 2018 by a Media Law Review Committee whose recommendations were submitted to the Ministry of Information and Communications include Information and Communications Act of 2009; Criminal Code of 1933; Indemnity Act of 2001; GRTS Act of 2004; Telegraph Stations Act of 1990; Officials Secrets Act of 1922; and the Newspaper and Broadcasting Stations Act of 1944.
The laws are recommended for review because they have problematic and disturbing provisions that are not in line with international norms, standards, and democracy.
While one is being developed, The Gambia has yet to have a data protection law despite Bah said that despite being a signatory to the 2010 ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection.
Bah said such a law should establish whistleblowing procedures to provide safe channels for or other informants to report fraud, corruption or serious wrong doings.
The ECOWAS Act requires each ECOWAS Member State to establish a data protection authority that will be responsible for ensuring that personal data is processed in compliance with the provisions of the ECOWAS Act.
Access to Information
He also urged the government to put in place mechanisms for the implementation of the Access to Information law.
“In light of the passing of the Access to Information Act in 2021, the GPU in line with the theme of this day, is calling on the government to build the necessary digital infrastructure within the government to ensure the operationalisation of the Access to Information Act,” he said.
Maimuna Sidibeh, the acting Secretary General of UNESCO/NATCOM, praised the work the GPU on press freedom, freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.
She noted that UNESCO has been a longstanding partner of the GPU in supporting media development as it enhances the freedom of expression and contributes to peace, sustainability, poverty eradication and human rights.
“This is why UNESCO promotes policies for press freedom and safety of journalists and supports independent journalism based on ethics and self-regulatory principles,” she said. “We will continue to contribute to strengthening professional standards through capacity building.”
Nana Grey-Johnson, the Vice Chariperson of UNESCO/NATCOM, encouraged journalists to do research on the history of the media in the country.
“History is important because that’s the platform you stand on to protect and fight for press freedom,” Grey-Johnson, who is also a veteran journalist, said.
Speaking on the topic, “Implementation of the Windhoek+30 Declaration with practical steps to help secure information as a public good”, he said it was important for journalists to know the significant contributions to the Gambia made to the Windhoek Declaration through representation by the late Sanna Manneh who was the Editor-In-Chief of The Torch Newspaper.
Samba Bah, the acting Managing Director of MAJaC, said that MAJaC as a journalism training institute recognizes the importance of press freedom and the need to create an enabling environment for journalists and media organisations to carry out their mandate effectively.
He also urges the government to bring back the 2020 Draft Constitution to lay the ground for a democratic and human rights-respecting society in which journalism can thrive.
Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, the Government’s Principal Information Officer, said the Gambia government has set in motion plans to operationalize the implementation of the Access to Information law.
He said this is a priority of the government as it seeks to consolidate gains made in creating a more press-friendly environment and to enhance the right to freedom of expression.
Participants at the event were journalists, journalism students, and representatives from the government and civil society.