The president of the Gambia Press Union, Muhammed S Bah, has said the year’s journalism awards theme was carefully chosen to reflect the inability of the Gambia to fully break from a brutal past characterised by numerous attacks on journalists and media houses that severely restricted press freedom and freedom of expression.
Addressing the 8th edition of its journalism awards that rewards and recognises quality journalism Saturday, Mr Bah said while the press freedom situation has significantly improved, “a number of practices that enabled that very dark chapter in Gambian media history, have been resurfacing, manifested by the powers that be, and by some other actors – ‘as we have seen recent alarming statements from senior political leaders, including the President of the Republic of The Gambia, against the media and civil rights advocates – that could largely affect press freedom and freedom of expression”.
He revealed that there have also been arbitrary arrests and detention without charge or trial against journalists, media workers and civil rights advocates and the seizing of their mobile phones and an insistence on accessing whatever information that is stored in these phones by state security apparatus. “We have also witnessed physical attacks on journalists mainly by the police and political party activists – from both the ruling and opposition parties – for which no one is held accountable, despite the fact that some of these cases are reported to the police. These practices remain a grave concern, and the failure of the State to bring perpetrators of crimes against Gambian journalists to justice, has helped sustained a cycle of violence against journalists for 29 years – covering a period from the dictatorship to the post-dictatorship era,” the GPU president said.
He added that while the victims of the grave dictatorship-era crimes against journalists have yet to see justice, “we are witnessing in recent times direct threats to journalists and media houses from the current administration. This is why we are calling on the Gambia Government to speed up reform initiatives that it said it was committed to, by implementing the recommendations of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission – by repealing some of the existing media laws that have laid a foundation of structural causes of violence against the media and media workers. And to fulfil the ‘Never again’ promise with a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators of violence against journalists and to create a more friendly environment for the media to effectively and efficiently play its watchdog role and contribute significantly to national development, including strengthening The Gambia’s democracy.”
The Minister of Information, Lamin Queen Jammeh, called on the media to exercise responsible and fair journalism and reiterated government’s commitment to uphold the principle of democracy which includes press freedom.
The ceremony awarded journalists in 17 categories and voted investigative Mustapha K Darboe as the journalist of the year.