By: Kebba AF Touray
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), organized a two-day Media Reform Workshop for National Assembly Members, at a local hotel in Kololi.
The aim of the workshop according to the organisers, is to engage Legislators on issues highlighted in GPU’s ‘Common Legal Position Paper’, to ensure the Assembly gives its blessing, when the paper is tabled before them.
Lamin Jahateh said the GPU is a Union of Journalists that was formed in 1979, with the objective of protecting and promoting their welfare.
“The Mission of the GPU is to safeguard the welfare of media practitioners, while promoting freedom of expression and professionalism in the media”, he said.
He said the GPU anticipates the Gambia as an open society, where citizens and non-citizens are empowered with accurate and undiluted information, to be able to make informed choices and decisions on who should represent them and how State activities are executed.
He explained that a comprehensive media reform strategy is centered on three areas which include policy and legal reform, under which they hired a lawyer to make a comprehensive study of all media related Laws in the country; that the lawyer presented ‘The Common Legal Position Paper’, with the view of making recommendations, in line with International standards.
“Access to information might be championed by the media, but it is there to assure the people with a transparent and accountable leadership, which benefits not only the media, but the entire country”, said Jahateh.
Ms. Rubina, the IRI Resident Country Director, said IRI is a non-partisan organization and is in The Gambia at the invitation of the United State Agency for International Development (USAID), who is also their sponsor; that their objective of funding the workshop is to support the National Assembly (NA) play its rightful role effectively, in order to facilitate the reform agenda of the current Government.
She disclosed the continuous support of IRI to the National Assembly and Support Groups that are working on the different kind of reforms that will require legislation, policy review or amendments that the NA should play during the democratic transition.
Hon. Bakary Camara who spoke on behalf of the Speaker of the NA, said the Gambian media has undoubtedly evolved and has become a more active player since the advent of the new Government.
“This is part of Government’s growing interest in entrenching democracy and good Governance. The role of a free but responsible media, is indeed not only critical but also indispensable in emerging democracies like ours”, he said.
He averred that the right of the media to objectively express constructive opinion, as well as report accurately, must be guaranteed and no legislation should be enacted by the National Assembly which impinges on that right.
Information Minister Demba Ali Jawo, said Freedom of Expression should not be regarded as the ‘freedom of journalists, proprietors and editors, but as the embodiment of the public’s right to know and participate in the free flow of information.
“The media is at the cutting edge of civic engagement and as such, the National Assembly in partnership with the executive, have the responsibility to remove legal and institutional obstacles and other measures, to develop a fully informed society, to allow for free and responsible media. As such therefore, protecting the media is a necessary adjunct to democracy and good Governance”, he said.
He said the National Assembly would not only proactively support the Media Law Reforms , but would also go the extra mile to help preserve the independence of journalists, support MOICI’s proposal to strengthen the GRTS in playing a more effective role as the “Public Broadcaster”, be independent and impartial, provide more training opportunities and information for journalists on National Assembly practices and procedures, and provide the media with full access to basic information and documents, produced by the National Assembly.