By Omar Bah
The Gambia Press Union has slammed the National Assembly authority’s decision to deny the majority of Gambian journalists’ entry during the first reading of the constitutional promulgation bill.
The Union president Sheriff Bojang Jr told journalists yesterday they have written to the National Assembly demanding them to henceforth allow journalists entry.
All media houses, except GRTS, QTV and Eye Africa TV were denied access to the National Assembly to cover the Constitutional Promulgation Bill, 2020.
“The assembly authorities have informed us that they designated the auditorium for journalists who want to cover the proceedings. They also told us Eye Africa will provide footages for other media houses who may need the footages. But we have written back to inform them that we are not satisfied with the decision – we insisted that all journalists should be allowed entry to the floor. We are waiting for their response,” he said.
Bojang said his office would have expected parliamentary authorities to consult them or media chiefs before taking such a decision.
“I want to make it clear that the GPU was not directly or indirectly contacted by the National Assembly prior to taking the decision,” he said.
He said when he received information Sunday night that journalists would not be allowed entry into the parliament, he immediately called the head of communication at the National Assembly who confirmed that the decision was reached at the meeting.
“But he told me the decision was purely based on health grounds due to the coronavirus. He told me even the seating arrangements of parliamentarians have been changed to give room for social distancing because they did not want to congest the floor,” he said.
However, he argued that stopping journalists from covering events “not just in this country but all over the world in the name of safety is a last decision one can take.”
“Even countries where there is war other people could be barred from going to certain places but not journalists,” he added.
He said the GPU had since discussed with the head of communication at the parliament and the Clack.
“They confirmed to us that the decision was purely based on ensuring the safety of everybody including the journalists. The GPU is aware that these are trying times but the method used by the Parliament was wrong. They should have contacted the GPU to consult us,” he said.
“The head of communication at the parliament at the end of the day said journalists can go into the gallery but upstairs. The problem with upstairs is that when you are there, it is as good as not being in Banjul because when you are there, you cannot get what the parliamentarians are discussing, there is no speaker, if you are a cameraman you cannot film anything,” he said.
Bojang said the Speaker has assured him that the decision was not in any way a policy to guide the work of the press.
“She assured me that it is a short-term measure due to the Covid-19,” he s