By Omar Bah
All media houses, except GRTS, QTV and Eye Africa TV were yesterday denied access to the National Assembly to cover the Constitutional Promulgation Bill, 2020.
Furious reporters from various media institutions gathered outside the parliament building waiting for answers.
“I was stopped from entering the National Assembly building to cover the First Reading of the Constitution Bill 2020. Officers said only QTV, GRTS and Eye Africa TV were invited. This is unfortunate because even if they want to restrict the media due to Covid-19, they should have come up with a comprehensive policy and not cherry-picking media houses,” Flex Dan, editor of Gainako wrote.
Another journalist wrote: “The National Assembly has decided to discriminate against the private media. This is unacceptable, and a disregard for press freedom, which must be acted upon as soon as possible”.
Kemeseng Sanneh, a familiar face at the National Assembly, expressed his disappointment as he believes that the decision is a sign of discrimination.
“This is a state event and all media institutions should be allowed to make reporting. The National Assembly should have taken necessary steps in organizing today’s event due to Covid-19. We have been covering events at the National Assembly since March and we have been taking all the required measures,” Sanneh said.
The Gambia Press Union also issued a statement on the matter informing members that they were engaging the authorities of the National Assembly to give access to all the media houses interested in covering the proceedings.
“This is in reaction to the disturbing information from reporters on the ground that only certain media outlets are allowed entry into the Assembly. While that discussion is ongoing, we wish to make it clear that the GPU was not involved or aware of any plan or communication to limit the number of media outlets covering the such an important National Assembly proceeding today,” the Union said.
The statement added: “We could not have been involved in any such discriminatory scheme. We are of course aware that because of the physical distancing arrangements in the gallery at the National Assembly, the number of people to be admitted would be limited. However, in such instances, what would have been the most ideal thing is to have prior discussion with all media houses, particularly those that constantly cover the Assembly sessions, to make sure all are accommodated somehow. Meanwhile, the outcome of the discussion with the Assembly authorities will be communicated in due course.”
Meanwhile even before proceedings commenced at the assembly yesterday, the member for Serekunda Halifa Sallah who was concerned about the journalists’ plight, made a motion demanding the decision to be annulled and another decision be made by the Speaker immediately.
“If we fail to do that, Hon Speaker, the integrity of this National Assembly will be questioned. Hon Speaker the National Human Rights Commission is set up to eradicate violation of fundamental rights and freedom and we should not allow this National Assembly to be associated with any history that will show that we are discriminating anyone,” Sallah advised.
In response, Speaker Mariam Denton said: “Hon Member, with all due respect, I have taken your observation but I don’t think it is fair to force me to take a decision immediately. I cannot accede to that request. It is something that we will take note of and I will consult with the office of the Clerk. The essential thing is that I cannot make a decision immediately after all, you have thought of it and I don’t think of it. I think it is only fair for me to take it into consideration and see how best we can work it out.”