Journalists in The Gambia have renewed the struggle to ensure the “tiny space” of freedom of expression in the country is expanded so the media can flourish.
On the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2013, journalists in the country processed from Africell head-office along Kairaba Avenue to TANGO, about half a kilometer, chanting the slogan “free speech, free press”.
At TANGO, where the procession ended, a policy dialogue was held during which speakers were engaged in an analytical overview of the media situation in The Gambia and its ramifications on national development.
The commemoration was organised by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) in partnership with The Association of Non-Governmental Organisation (TANGO), an umbrella body of civil societies in the country, on the theme: “Safe to speak: Securing freedom of expression in all media”.
Speaking on the occasion, Madi Jobarteh, programme manager of TANGO, said freedom of speech is critical to all other rights as it is an inherent right that gives meaning to all other human rights.
“Freedom of expression is an inherent human right that no one can confer on anyone and no one has the right to take from anyone,” he said.
Of all the rights that people enjoy, probably the right that is so critical to the enjoyment of all other rights is free speech.
“What is the meaning of your life if you cannot say a word, what is the purpose of your citizenship if you cannot speak your mind,” Mr Jobarteh asked rhetorically.
The right to live is a sacred right; right to association and right to vote are all fundamental rights that human being enjoy but to give meaning to all these rights free speech is central.
The media and journalists in The Gambia have seen numerous violations of press freedom and free expression for over a decade – ranging from arrests and detention, to exile, arsons, disappearance and in some instances, death or killing.
The GPU is therefore calling on the powers that be to critically reflect on the dire situation confronting the media and journalists in The Gambia.
The executive director of the GPU, Gibairu Janneh, appealed to the government, again, through the new minister of Communications and Information, Nana Grey Johnson, to reconsider the closure of Taranga FM, Daily News and Standard newspapers, which were closed in 2012.
“We are making our appeal because the GPU is in firm belief that the closure of these media houses adds nothing to the development of The Gambia. At least we are all in the business of national development; each of us must be a contributor towards that development,” he said.
For Lamin Yarboe, executive director of TANGO, journalists have a share in the economic development of any nation, and media houses have a share in the development of national programmes.
He stated that journalists have a responsibility and their responsibility mainly is to provide information to the masses – the right information at the right time.
“Over the years, we have seen media houses, by giving out that information, some journalists have lost their lives, and some are put behind bars,” he said. “These are challenges that we as a nation, we as a member of the world should look into.
“If we are serious about our development and media houses and journalists as part of development then we need to consider this aspect.”
Sam Sarr, Managing Editor of Foroyaa newspaper, spoke on ‘the law and the media’, and Lamin Nyangado of Action Aid International The Gambia remarked on “the role of the media in policymaking and development processes”.