By Momodou Jarju

‘Article 19’, a freedom of expression and information group in West Africa, over the weekend engaged media stakeholders, as they gear up for a research project that aims to assess the media landscape of the Gambia, including the working conditions of journalists.

‘Article 19’ is executing the project on behalf of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), by using Media Development Indicators (MDI), an assessment indicator endorsed by UNESCO in 2008.

The Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI) Ebrima Sillah, said in his opening remarks that the media cannot perform effectively without capacity building. He said when the media is fully integrated in people’s development activities, it will help them to quickly see the results because advocacy will be engendered and people will be able to understand what Government is doing in their name. “To build the capacities of the media, we need to assess the needs and what has to be done so that we first avoid duplication of efforts, and prioritize,” he said. Sillah assured Gambia Government’s commitment to the entire exercise.

The Director of UNESCO’s Regional Multi-sectorial Office for West Africa Mr. Dimitri Sanga, said the MDI process is a contribution to the on-going media sector reform in the Gambia and is part of UNESCO’s commitment to support, within its mandate, the country’s achievement of its National Development Plan (NDP) objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aligned with SDG 16, whose strategic priority is the restoration of good governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of Law.

“The MDI assessment is directly concerned with evaluating the development gaps in the media sector, with focus on the System of Regulation, Pluralism and Diversity, Media as a platform for democratic discourse, professional capacity and supporting institutions, and Infrastructural capacity,” he said. He noted the process of MDI assessment is built on inclusiveness and participation, and is opened to all media stakeholders, and the general public, both private and community based; adding MDI is a process that fosters open and constructive dialogue among media stakeholders. Sanga said since its inception, MDI has gained wide recognition and UNESCO has supported its application in more than twenty countries in Asia, Latin America and Western Europe.

“An analysis of its impact has revealed that MDI assessment has been instrumental in providing government with policy advice for media reform. This was for instance the case in Tunisia, and Gabon. In Tunisia, the 2012 Decree/Law reforming the media Law, followed one key recommendation of the MDI Report, by establishing an independent broadcasting authority. In Gabon, the publishing of the report triggered the revision of the Media Law. During the review, Government decided to follow some key recommendations such as recognition of community media and the decriminalization of press offences in the new Law,” he explained.

Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director for ‘Article 19’, said the media plays a crucial role in shaping a democratic society; adding it creates an enabling environment that allows the development of a free, diverse and sustainable media landscape.

“Building from more than a decade of work on Freedom of Expression in the Gambia, Article 19 has for the past two years, been working with the Gambia Government and different stakeholders including media organizations such as the GPU, to support the reform of media Laws and policies, to ensure that they are in line with International Standards,” she said.

Key institutions ranging from academic institutions, civil society organizations with both national and regional experience and a sizeable representation of media organizations with the umbrella body, will be part of this exercise. The committee has an inclusive gender balance and multi stakeholder membership including the Spokesperson and the Deputy Director for Information, Institute for Human Rights Development in Africa (IHRDA); Gambia Press Union (GPU); Broadcasters Association of the Gambia (BAG); Female Lawyers Association Gambia (FLAG); The Gambia Bar Association (GBA); The Gambia Association of community Radio Stations; School of Arts and sciences; University of The Gambia; Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO); Newspaper Publishers Association of The Gambia and the School of Journalism and Digital Media. The role of the committee is to validate the methodology prepared by researcher(s), and the choice of stakeholders that will be part of the consultation process, the final draft, and comments on the zero draft.

The MDI project which is expected to finish its final research document in July, and the National Steering Committee and researchers, will lead the process.

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