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Minister says D40m media contract aimed at tackling ‘disinformation’

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By Tabora Bojang

Information Minister Dr Ismaila Ceesay has said that the controversial media contract under which 7 selected media outlets were given over D40M, was aimed at tackling disinformation, so that government will not lose the information space to “professional disinformation campaigners” and “political activists operating under the obscurity of online media practice.”

The contract was signed in February but only came to be known to the public when The Standard ran a scoop on it in April.

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Since then, it has attracted widespread public criticisms and condemnations from various segments of the society.

During yesterday’s question and answer session between Ministers and lawmakers, Information Minister Ceesay faced a barrage of questions from lawmakers about the procurement processes and selection criteria that led to it being awarded to the 7 media houses.

In his response, Dr Ceesay gave a background to the contract. He said: “In line with Gambia’s Access to Information Act which provides a solid ground to access and proactively share information held by government and in pursuant to realisation of universal access to information, government with the support from Freedom House, hired a consultant to develop a strategic plan- 2024 to 2028 and submit to the Ministry of Information for implementation”.

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This plan, according to him, is anchored on strategic pillars including access to information, public consultation and popularization of the government agenda.

He added that his “Ministry with support from NDI had also developed the ATI implementation framework and the National Communication framework seeking to promote proactive access to information on government development projects, programs and other initiatives.

“Building on the new imperatives, the Ministry and other stakeholders recognized imminent gaps in the government’s communication landscape that plays into the hands of opportunistic disinformation campaigners motivated often by political activism in the guise of online media practice. The government therefore recognized the need for a galvanized communications action plan to rein in disinformation and its distortionary impacts and take control of the narratives through proactive information sharing. It is against this backdrop that the contract came into effect, to address legitimate challenges that repeatedly reduced the government to a defensive position”, Ceesay stated.

He said the government therefore recognized the need for a scientific approach to its communication apparatus realizable on the heels of the effectiveness of the contract.

“The contract should not be mistaken for a propaganda instrument for scoring political gains; instead, it is meant to support the free flow of information on government policy with a view to empower society to reinforce democratic accountability through constructive criticisms. In the absence of proactive information sharing, the government will lose the space to professional disinformation campaigners or political activists operating under the obscurity of online media practice,” he said.

Criteria for selection

On the criteria used to select the media houses, the minister said, standards used for the selection was by the judgement and perception of the government regarding competence, professional independence, capacity to air audio visuals and existence of trust and confidence.

Restricted tender

Dr Ceesay said the Ministry gets approval from the GPPA for a restricted tender granting it to float tenders, with the participating media houses submitting financial and technical proposals.

He stated there was no advertisement or publication as the procurement mechanism used was a restricted tender method acceptable under the GPPA Act 2022.

The Member for LatriKunda Yaya Sanyang dismissed the Minister’s claims. He said the contract was not a restricted tender but a single source where media houses were written to and invited to take part in the process.

The minister did not argue but only said that is just a matter of technical definition.

The Foni Bintang NAM Bakary Badjie asked why the government failed to table it before the National Assembly to ensure public trust as it claims.

“How do you want to ensure public trust when this was not endorsed by lawmakers” Badjie asked, and Minister Ceesay replied: “I see no correlation between public trust and National Assembly endorsement.”

Sources of funding

NAM Lamin Ceesay of Kiang West asked the minister to tell Gambians for the sake of transparency the sources of funds for the contract and Minister Ceesay said: “We will always be transparent in our dealings as the hallmarks of this government.”

However, he did not disclose the source of the monies paid for the contract.

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