The Gambia Press Union (GPU) on Monday December 31, 2018, submitted to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) a position paper seeking constitutional guarantees for media and freedom of expression rights.
The GPU delegation, led by the Union president, Sheriff Bojang Jr., was received at the CRC offices by the chairman of the Commission, Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow and his commissioners and staff, including the Executive Secretary, Mr Omar Jobe.
The GPU position paper is a 32-page document that that makes a strong case for constitutional guarantees of media and freedom of expression rights.
The paper addresses eleven thematic areas, including freedom of expression, freedom of information, internet freedoms, media freedoms, state-owned media, media regulation and licensing.
In presenting the paper, the GPU Secretary General, Mr Saikou Jammeh, commended the CRC for opening up for professional bodies like the GPU to constructively engage with the constitutional building process.
He said: “This paper that we are presenting has gone through rigorous consultations by government, media and civil society stakeholders before it was reviewed and adopted by the general membership of the GPU. It is also supported and endorsed by at least nine civil society organisations.
“I can therefore safely say that the positions stated in this submission reflect the views and aspirations of Gambians and non-Gambians from diverse professional background with a common desire to create in The Gambia an environment where freedom of expression will be the bedrock upon which our society will be built.”
In receiving the paper, the CRC chair Justice Jallow, lauded the efforts of the GPU in the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of journalists.
He said: “This voluminous submission shows the level of seriousness that you attached to this process. Your opinion matters to us. We assure you every document submitted to us will be very seriously considered.
“The media in any country is a key institution in strengthening democracy. When people are able to access information, they are able to stand up for what is right. Access to information is important and we must not stop there. We have to move further to ensure that these rights are protected. We all do not like it when key information we need to know is hidden from us.”
Justice Jallow, who served as the keynote speaker for the recent launch of the Media Council of The Gambia by the GPU, added that he favours self-regulation as opposed to government regulation of the media.
“Anything imposed is not a good idea,” he said. “We as a country are grateful that we have a very resilient media that is ready to serve the people to the fullest.”
He added further: “We want to ensure that we have a media friendly constitution that recognises the value of the media in strengthening the newly found democracy in the country.”
The Gambia is undergoing political reforms after 22 years of dictatorship. Part of this process is a requirement to come up with a new constitution that reflects the aspirations. The government has since set up a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) through Constitutional Review Commission Act, passed on 13 December 2017 by the National Assembly and assent to by the president on 13 January 2018. The CRC was inaugurated on the 5th of June 2018 the CRC, tasked with the drafting of a new constitution, has since been at work. Among them is a GPU designated Commissioner. The Commission has since been engaged in public consultations, at home and abroad, and has published an Issues Document that invites people to send in submissions.