The AU’s special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula gave the call yesterday at the Kairaba Beach Hotel where journalists, activists, and rights leaders converged to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

She said: “I am hoping that The Gambia will join others in adopting the Free Access to Information Act which has so far been adopted by only 16 countries across the continent. This act ensures that the citizens’ rights to free expression and access to information which is vital to democracy are secured. Without information, we cannot have access to our rights. Only 16 countries have adopted the Commission’s Free Access to Information Act by the African Human Rights Commission. Laws on sedition and criminal defamation are bad laws that are being used by governments across Africa to suppress dissent, freedom of speech and expression and opposition. Where there is repression on freedom of speech, journalists are involved in self-censorship.

Tlakula called on the Gambia Press Union, the body responsible for the affairs of journalists to have a constructive dialogue with the government in addressing the problems affecting the vibrancy of free media in the country. She also urged the members of the media to pay high regards to their professional ethics.  


She added: “The media must ensure the highest level of responsibility of professional ethics. We call on politicians to leave the newsrooms just as we called on the journalists to avoid politics. The Gambia Press Union has an observer status but not once have they come to the office to report violations of the rights of journalists in this country. We have to, as we fight for a free society, use litigations means and challenge the laws in the court of laws, and until we exhaust the legal means in both home and abroad. Engage the government in constructive dialogue; you have an opportunity in that you are one people with one heritage in this country.”   


Better media-government relation

Meanwhile, Malick Jones the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure has said that the government is open to allowing the media have a self-regulatory body but added that such progress can only be made through fruitful dialogue. He also enjoined the media to report the “impressive progresses” that are being made in the country that “the international media is not seeing”.

He said: “The government wants to better the relations and this can only work out if we sit down and talk. If this happens, we can regulate ourselves, not the government regulating us. We can learn a lot from Senegal and Ghana in this respect. We are waiting for funds from UNESCO to facilitate the self-regulation for the media in the country.

“We should also try to celebrate the development in the country that the international media is not seeing. I think there is a lot of development taking place in Africa that the international media is not saying and you can do that. You can report on development issues. We will one day take off some of the things that you deem are not favourable to your operations. The Gambia has come far from where we were before because we can today boast of at least 14 radio stations, public television, and so many daily newspapers.”

Others speakers were Hannah Foster of African Centre for Human Rights Studies, Almamy Taal, the president of the Gambia Writers Association, Mahamane Cisse Gouro, regional director at the Office of the United Nation High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), Emil Touray, the president of the Gambia Press Union, Lamin Fatty, the managing director at The Standard newspaper, Amie Sillah of Fororyaa newspaper, George Christensen and Madi Jobarteh. A minute of silence was also observed for journalists who have died on duties or suffered unjust incarceration around the globe.