GPU Trains Journalists On Use Of ATI Law For News Reporting

137

By Nelson Manneh

The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), on Thursday 9th February 2023, commenced the training of journalists on the use of Access To Information law for news reporting and ensuring transparency in governance. The objective of the training is to improve journalists’ knowledge and understanding of the ATI legislation and build the capacity of journalists to know their right to access information under the ATI legislation among others. The right to information was before 2017, politicized and misrepresented as a threat to the country’s peace and stability. This was done by the previous regime to evade accountability, stifle press freedom and freedom of expression and limit access to information and citizens’ right to know.

However, after the change of government in 2016, public interest in access to information grew, following an unprecedented five-year CSO-led right-to-know campaign. The campaign, led by the Gambia Press Union (GPU), culminated in the establishment of the CSO Coalition on Access to Information which initiated the process of promulgating the Bill.

The Gambia which now has an Access to Information Act was able to get tis bill into law when the Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly in July 2021 and signed into law by the President of the Republic a month later. The legislative framework grants the citizens and everyone else, the legal right of access to information that the government and private entities keep for or on behalf of the public. The success of the ATI legislation however, lies not just in the quality of the legal instrument, but also in its application, use and implementation.

As the legislation is entering its implementation phase, the GPU seeks to support this process by providing training to journalists to know their rights and to understand the procedures for accessing information under the ATI legislation. The Act provides an enforceable right for journalists to access official documents held by public officials, and under the Act, journalists have a right to request, process and disseminate public information held by public bodies to the general public. The Act also provides guidelines for an appeal to the Information Commission for violation of the right to access to information by public bodies. This will enhance democracy, ensure citizens’ participation and build greater trust in Government’s decision-making. Therefore, journalists have a very crucial role to play in the application and implementation of the ATI law.

GPU president Muhammed S. Bah, President said The Gambia joined other West African peers into adopting an access to information legislation through the National Assembly in July 2021, which was assented to by the President of the Republic a month later. He said the legislative framework grants citizens, journalists and everyone else, the legal right of access to information that the government and private entities keep on behalf of the public.

However, Mr Bah said having access to information legislation is not the be all and end all of our quest as a nation, to ensure people have a right of access to public information or ensuring transparency and accountability in government and governance processes.

He said as the legislation enters into its implementation phase, it is important that all the necessary tools and mechanisms are put in place for the effective application, use and implementation of the law. That this is why the GPU was in consultation with the Ministry of Information and developed a roadmap that would serve as a guiding tool for all stakeholders for the operationalization of the law. He said success of the ATI legislation lies not just in the quality of the legal instrument, but in its application, use and implementation.

“The Access to Information Act, 2021, provides an enforceable right for journalists to access official documents held by public officials. Under the Act, journalists have a right to request, process, and disseminate public information held by public bodies to the general public. The Act also provides guidelines for an appeal to the Information Commission for violation of the right to access information by public bodies,” he said. He said the ATI Law will enhance democracy, ensure citizens’ participation and build greater trust in Government decision-making. That therefore, journalists have a very crucial role to play in the application and implementation of the ATI law.