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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Why restrict private media at assembly sittings?

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For the first time in the so-called new Gambia, private media houses were stopped from covering the National Assembly sittings.

For those who missed the occasion, the Draft Constitution bill was introduced in parliament yesterday. This sets the ball rolling ahead of the referendum as the country heads into the next electoral cycle.

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Since the inauguration of the Constitutional Review Commission in 2018, the Gambian media, both private and public, has been constantly updating the public about its engagements; from public consultations to the actual draft. The constitution was drafted, the consultative draft was shared, finalized and submitted to the executive who gazetted it and now the bill is in the assembly. In all these stages, the private media has been there, picking every important detail and bringing it to the fore so as to give the public the rare opportunity to scrutinise the document in order to make informed choices as the referendum approaches.

However, just when the draft constitution reaches its final and most important stages, the National Assemble has refused entrance of journalists at the tabling of the bill yesterday, with the exception of state broadcaster GRTS, private online TV Eye Africa and QTV. To say we are disappointed will be an understatement. This is a betrayal to the efforts of journalists who have been at the forefront of this constitutional building process from the onset. You cannot stop journalists from entering the National Assembly, which is even supposed to be accessible to the public, and expect us to smile and walk away.

It is important to ask a few questions therefore: who ordered journalists to stay away from the assembly? Was it the government? Was it the National Assembly? Why would anyone of them do that? Is it because of the coronavirus? If so, that is ridiculous because journalists have been going to the assembly while lawmakers debate other matters, SAB, SoPEs, etc., without any problems at all.

What is even more disappointing is allowing journalists to waste their resources and energy by travelling all the way to the assembly only to stop them from entering. If there were any arrangements that included not allowing private media in the assembly, it should have been communicated. But we bet there was none! This was a decision taken without consulting journalists, not even the Gambia Press Union. The government has been accused of censoring the media but, if at all this came from the assembly, then we are in a bigger trouble than we initially thought. Leave us in peace! We need to do our work! A lot is at stake!

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