GPU observes world press freedom day


By Sailu Bah The Gambia Press Union in close collaboration with UNESCO and the UnitedGPU 001 Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights Sunday joined the rest of the world to observe world press freedom day. This event took place yesterday on 3 May 2015 at the Kairaba BeachHotel and the theme of the programme was: “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards better reporting, Gender Equality, and Safety in the Digital Age.” In his opening statement Emil Touray President of GPU, said this is a day of reflection, a day of stock taking and for mapping out the way forward for Journalism. Mr Touray said this is an important event which provides the opportunity for journalists to remember the fallen heroes of Journalism, those who have moved heaven and earth to promote and defend media freedom. In mentioning few, he cited the likes of Deyda Hydara, Babucarr Gaye and William Dixon Colley. He said these are people who worked hard in promoting and defending media freedom in the country. “They will always be in our minds and we will never forget them,” he commended. Mr. Touray said that the GPU like any other progressive organisation would at all times work to promoting professionalism in the Gambian media, adding that GPU would at all times defend media freedom and freedom of expression. “This is why in September last year GPU instituted civil action against the Gambia government at the Supreme Court of the Gambia asking the court to make a declaration that the laws of sedition and false publication are unconstitutional,“ he disclosed. He further said the GPU is also in the process of challenging the constitutionality or otherwise of the laws of criminal defamation and spreading false news on the internet. He further pointed that the GPU is working with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Thlaku to promote Access to Information in Africa. Touray apologized for GPU’s failure to make a statement at the African Commission sessions which he said is trigerred by logistical problems, but was quick to state that the Union will endeavour to make a statement at the next session of the Commission if it is held in The Gambia. Commissioner Pansy Thakula said the right to freedom of expression and access to information is entrenched in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She said during her 10 years in office with limited resources she has tried very hard to promote freedom of expression and access to information in Africa. She urged African countries to adopt the access to information laws, adding that without information people cannot exercise their rights. “We can only exercise our social and economic rights, if we have information, that is why I prioritised the project of access to information, and since we began the project only five countries adopted it, but the number has now increased to 16,” she revealed. She said she is also trying to work on the second project in which governments will be engaged to decriminalise all laws that restrict freedom of expression, such as criminal defamation, publication of false news, insult laws and sedition laws. She pointed that journalists in the African continent continue to suffer because of these laws. Madam Hannah Forster Executive Director African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies raised the issue of the importance of gender in journalism, which she said is an issue that needs a lot of attention. “As women we have a lot of challenges relating to being women, and when you become a journalist you have double challenges,” she pointed out. She said attention should be paid to women journalists, because they need to be given all the support they needed, adding that this can also bring the gender dimension that has been lost in having too many male journalists in the field. She reaffirmed their support to the Gambia Press Union in promoting Freedom of Expression. Almami Fanding Taal, President of Gambia Writers Association who doubles as the chairperson of the GPU school of journalism for his part challenged the journalists not to only focus on court reporting or only on other limited issues but to also concentrate on reporting on developmental issues that concerns the nation as well as the African continent as a whole, especially Ecowas member states. For his part, Muhamane Cisse Gouro, the Chief of the Africa branch of Field Operation and Technical Operation Division of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that it “is a code of the UN Office of the High commissioner for human rights to ensure peace in promoting and protecting all fundamental human rights enjoyed by all.” He said the right of every person to freedom of expression can be found in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which he said includes freedom to seek and receive and impart information. He added that the event has coincided with the 56th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights currently being held in the Gambia. He thanked all commissioners who are present at the session. “This day seems to remind us about the utmost importance of free and accurate reporting, and media free reporting which is essential to the society,” he asserted. Speaking on the occasion on behalf of the Information Minister, Malick Jones, Deputy Permanent Secretary, urged the GPU to engage in dialogue with the Gambia government with a view to work to improving media policies. He reaffirmed the government’s support in promoting the media and journalism in the Gambia. He further said, “One of the most important things, that I think the government is working on right now, is trying to bridge the gap between the government and the press and this can only be achieved if we sit down, both government and the press to try and find a workable mechanism, that we can regulate, but not for government to regulate, but (we) the journalists to regulate ourselves. We have been working with UNESCO and this was one thing we have been trying to push forward and we hope that if the funds are available, we will tend to bring the media fraternity and the government in one table. We will all sit down, invite countries that have been able to succeed in regulating the media; and Ghana is a very good example so is Senegal and Sierra Leone.    I believe if we sit down and we look at what those people have been able to achieve and we try to work things out government will give us all encouragement rather than government imposing legislation on us.” The US ambassador to The Gambia, His Excellency Joseph D Strafford, a representative of the EU delegation in Banjul, Mathias Gaarmann, veteran journalists of the media like Ba Trawally, Sam Sarr and Cherno Jallow were present. In subsequent editions, we will publish we will publish the speeches of the speakers on the occasion. Madi Jobarteh spoke on “Freedom of Expression – A critical evaluation of the legal and policy environment in The Gambia”. Amie Sillah spoke on “Mainstreaming women and girls in the news – Towards gender equality in national news reporting”. George Christenson spoke on “Safety and Security of Journalism”. Lamin Fatty spoke on “Journalism in the digital age – An evaluation of the prospects and challenges of the information society.]]>