Presentation by Amie Sillah at the World Press Freedom Day Symposium by the GPU


Sailu Bah reporting Mrs Amie Sillah, a politician, gender activist and columnist spoke onAmie Sillah 2 the following topic at a symposium held at Kairaba Beach Hotel in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. “Mainstreaming women and girls in the news – towards gender equality in national news reporting”OVERVIEW Foroyaa has been repeating ad infinitum that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of all the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. In short, if killing, Seizure of liberty, arrest and detention without trial, invasion of privacy exist without public knowledge impunity shall be the order of the day and the rule of the mighty would be absolute. Public exposure is therefore a major deterrent to violation of right. The media enhances freedom of expression by amplifying the silent voices of victims. Women are actors in national development and victims of violence and violations of freedom and rights. They are also media practitioners. The media has a duty to cover the activity of women actors and victims and amplify their voices. The problem in the Gambia of mainstreaming women and girls in the news is selective coverage. According section 207 of the constitution the state media should give divergent views and dissenting opinion. Censorship at that level has made it impossible for women with divergent views and dissenting opinion to have coverage in the only National radio and television medium. Some Newspapers like Foroyaa try to amplify such voices but few women could read or write. We all accept that the professionalism marked by the publication of the truth in good faith in the public interest is indispensible. However, without an environment conducive for the free expression of views and opinions the whole truth would not be known. Censorship in the state media affects both male and females. Many young women are now entering the profession which is a good sign and many others are being discouraged by family and friends as journalists/media workers are seen as endangered species. Journalism, media work is a calling and a noble profession and both women/girls, men/boys have to go into it with passion, dignity and purpose. We should not allow ourselves to be used as spin journalists or what we locally call gutter journalists. Let us inform and try to get both sides of the story to give a balanced story to the public without being prejudicial with a preconceived mind or agenda. Allow me to review, the conditions of women which should be featured in the news so that it could impact on policy and practice to enlarge development and freedom of women in particular and the whole of society in general. As professional women and men journalist/media workers we should capture the solidarity of women irrespective of any parochial consideration as a good practice to be emulated and promoted. The rural women need coverage to show their efforts and their constraints e.g. they need agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, adequate water, pesticides, storage facilities etc, as professional we should bring it to the fore so that authorities know about it and then it can influence policy. The urban women are also engaged in economic activities for women empowerment, such activities should be captured for authorities to note, their constraints of finance and marketing of products can be highlighted for redress. The disability community of women and men are marginalized and look down upon by society; the media should highlight their achievements and how society can help them produce more to enhanced livelihoods. In all such stories issues of inequalities between men/women, boys/girls can be highlighted for example in career development, wages and salaries, distribution and access to resources, or in relation to rights of various kinds. Through such complains policies can be influence to address it for everyone. As journalist/media workers we need to come out with stories that challenge gender stereotypes to free people to live positive lives; who say women cannot be pilots, mechanics, successful business persons, engineers or professionals of every kind; men as professional chefs, beauticians, hairdressers etc. what about a story showing a woman mechanic working in her workshop underneath a car with overall and cap? A courageous gender sensitive father nannying a baby and feeding him/her while his wife is relaxing after heavy day’s work? A female politician sensitizing her electorate on party programme/policies and getting their feedback. These are good stories to fight gender stereotyping. We should go out in the community to search for stories that show how women, men, boys, girls live their lives and highlight their difficulties. Before coming into the profession one should be fully prepared psychologically, physically, emotionally and intellectually. There is no need for self censorship, get both sides of the story, invite expert input and leave the public to decipher truth from falsehood. For too long Africa has been languishing in poverty, ignorance and disease. Most of the African Nations now members of the African Union have been independent states for half a century or more. As they lowered colonial flag and raised national flag new African leaders promised liberty and dignity. But 50 years have elapsed and poverty still abounds in place of prosperity, people have no say in the manner they are governed, impunity holds sway while good governance is treated with disregard while transparency and accountability are paid lip service. A law on freedom of information is necessary and we should continue to advocate for it. What must the media do in the circumstances? Must we become complacent or restrict ourselves to praise singing, idle gossip or window dressing? The media is duty bound to report the facts as they are so that the public would become properly informed; it should interrogate society and unearth what is rotten, serve as a forum of enlightenment where issues of national importance are debated and knowledge gained. As the fourth estate it is given the responsibility to hold the government of the day and public officers accountable and serve the public interest. Many journalists have been harassed, threatened, lost their jobs, imprisoned and even murdered where impunity prevails. This has prompted the fleeing of journalists. The question we should ask is whether the media contributes to good governance, empowerment, gender equality, social inclusion and eradicating poverty? Media gives voice to the voiceless e.g. women and disability, minorities, poor and powerless, serves as a medium of disseminating information and propagating ideas, a whistle blower and a catalyst for change and development. It also promotes development. A good story from Foroyaa exposed a water crisis in a rural community Ndowen in Niani district, Central River Region where villagers have to travel into a village in Senegal to fetch water, an only well in the village was murky, after the exposure through the interviews of women/men, boys/girls, authorities were interviewed on the issue and a call for intervention from NGOs and other agencies, it did not take long for the problem to be solved. Fetching water in our communities is normally a gender specific role of women and girls and it can take a chunk of their time and add to the drudgery and for women to engage in development work and girls to do their studies especially when fetching water is from afar becomes a difficulty. Gender based violence is a pertinent issue that need coverage from the media, atrocities have to be exposed and survivors educated and informed of the steps to take to ameliorate their suffering. It should also be brought to the notice of authorities. Women/girls in the news do not mean stereotyping or showing them as sex objects, their problems are to be taken to the fore and solutions seek. Needless to say, laws on sedition, defamation, criminal libel, false news do restrict and do not facilitate freedom of expression. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Freedom of expression in short is the freedom to seek and receive information and everyone can express his/her views freely. The public/private media communicates to the public through electronic, print, T.V and internet hence without free media there can be no freedom of expression. To hesitate to write or say anything which one is convinced of to be the truth is to engage in self censorship inimical to freedom of the media and freedom of expression. Art 19 of the Un Declaration on Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” THE CONSTITUTION National instruments, the constitution stipulates in section 25 subsection (1) (a) that, “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.” In section 207 that, “The freedom and independence of the press and other information media are hereby guaranteed.” SEDITION AND LIBEL But how can it be guaranteed when sedition is still in our statute books? Sedition definition is not limited to exciting the people to attempt to effect change through unlawful means, sedition is also to intentionally bring into hatred or contempt or even to excite disaffection against the president or the government. Its penalty a fine or imprisonment or both, maximum D250, 000, minimum D50, 000, imprisonment term of at least one year. In the Gambia libel is also criminal, in some African countries it is treated as a matter between the publisher and the person claiming damages to reputation. Pan African Parliament in Midrand South Africa in January 2014 in a resolution urged; “all such legislation to be repealed and matters of defamation and libel only be dealt with under civil law.” False information attracts same penalty as that of libel and sedition. FALSE NEWS In July 2013, the Information and Communication Act was amended such that; “A person commits an offence if he/she uses the internet to spread false news against the government or public officials; incite disaffection or instigate violence against the government or public officials; or caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of public officials.” Penalty is imprisonment for 3 years or a fine of D15 million or both. Laws on sedition, criminal libel, false publication and false news restrict and inhibit freedom of expression; they do not promote or facilitate freedom of media. Women as victims are poorly projected in the news and women as journalists are afraid to report adequately, with poor salaries and working conditions they do not see it as worth the salt, the risk in the Gambia is too vivid to be ignored as parents, spouses, relatives and friends keep advising them to quit, working at night or venturing dangerous areas are completely prohibited. RECOMMENDATIONS The state has to abide by the Constitution which the executive has sworn to upheld at all times without fear or favour, affection or ill will. When it creates an enabling environment journalists will feel free to practice their profession. And many women professionals will be owners of Radio stations, newspapers and televisions. At the Institutional level Media heads at the present who are all males should utilize a gender lens to initiate policies and programmes that will be gender sensitive to all staffs particularly women. The male colleagues also have to be gender sensitive to see women journalists as partners in development, there should be positive competition to ensure there is professionalism in the news reporting. Women reporting the news should be gender sensitive and buckle up to be respected by their male counterparts. Happy commemorations!]]>