However, the deputy head of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) said the media laws were repressive and should be immediately repealed from the statute book as they undermine the work of journalists.
This disagreement came hot on the heels of a presentation on ‘The Role of Media in Effective Social Audit’ by the GPU’s Baboucarr Ceesay at the just-concluded National Assembly Regional Outreach Forum in Janjangbureh. The theme for the outreach forum was, “National Assembly Members’ Representative, Legislative and Oversight Functions under Social Audit.”
Ceesay decried the “draconian” media laws that the National Assembly passed “punishing” pen-pushers and broadcasters instead of enlarging the space for freedom of expression and the press.
“Increasing the newspaper registration bond from D100, 000 (2,491.47 USD) to D500,000 (12,437.84 USD) amounts to restricting freedom of the press unnecessarily because people who cannot afford this bond would not be able to own a media house,” he told lawmakers at the small island town.
He lamented the lack of access to information as well as phobia towards media practitioners with lack of adequate capacity building on parliamentary issues as factors hindering the growth of the profession.
“The role of the media in effective social audit is very significant if not indispensable in a democratic state. As the fourth estate and watchdog of society, the media can be very instrumental in the process of reviewing official records and determining whether state reported expenditures reflect the actual monies spent on the ground,” he said.
Ceesay called on the National Assembly to create a committee for the welfare of journalists while urging deputies to be releasing valuable information to journalists in the ultimate interest of the public.
He reminded NAMs that section 207 subsection (3) of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia says “The press and other information media shall at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this constitution, and the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of The Gambia.”
Dilating on importance of the media, GPU vice president quoted Thomas Jefferson former American president who said if he were to choose between government without newspaper or newspapers without government, he would have chosen the latter without hesitation.
Responding to Ceesay’s presentation, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly Fatou Mbye said the presentation was excellent but responsible journalism was not highlighted, which is a key component of good journalism.
“Too much of freedom can bring about chaos if people are allowed to say all they deem fit to speak about,” she said.
Majority leader Fabakary Tombong Jatta said that there are certain reports that could create instability in the country adding that “there is public order and public morality which should also be protected. The rights of media practitioners go with responsibilities.”
Nominated Member Lamin Saine said former US president Thomas Jefferson’s preference to newspapers without a government did not stop the existence of a government in the United States.
“Americans have ignored the concept of Thomas Jefferson. Where someone’s rights ends is where another person’s rights begin,” he said.
He said the constitution of The Gambia has provided for freedom of expression where journalists could write and say whatever they wanted, noting that journalism has been in The Gambia “since time immemorial because whatever happened used to be talked about”.
By Sainey Marenah