On Monday October 29, the Gambia Press Union, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy, launched a report on the review of media laws in the country. The event was held at the Djembe Beach Hotel.
The review of media laws is geared towards promoting the advocacy for an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression and of the press. It examines the extent to which the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, international instruments and local statutes affect particularly the enjoyment of the right of the media to operate in a free and safe environment.
Speaking at the opening ceremony the president of the Gambia Press Union Sheriff Bojang Jnr., in his welcoming address, said the document is much more significant, much more broader and much more important today than any other time in considering that the Gambia is transitioning as a country, as a people from one chapter to the other.
“The media suffered in the past and often times those violations were supported or justified by some of the draconian laws in our statute books,” he said.
Mr Bojang added: “The fight against those draconian media laws that are inimical to media interests is not only meant for this government but other subsequent government that might have dictatorial tendencies and use them to clamp down on journalists to suppress decent and freedom of expression.
Mr John Njie, Chairman of TANGO in his statement, commended the GPU for not confining the findings of the research document to books and offices only but rather to make it available to all relevant stakeholders.
Also speaking at the event Sam Sarr the Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper, said that for media freedom to strive there are two essential components the law and the practice.
“Since December 2, 2017, the media has been relying on the goodwill of government. What the media really need is to institutionalised good media laws to be enacted for an assured guarantee,” he added
Mr Sarr said: “The paper is concrete, practical and there is hope that action be taken as soon as possible to ensure the enactment and repeal of certain laws to enable freedom of expression and an enabling environment for the media to operate.
Delivering the keynote address, Mr Abubukarr Baa Tambedou the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said the promotion of an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression and the permissive political environment for the media to operate in a free and safe environment has been a priority objective for his government.
The Minister for Justice said: “All legislations criminal or otherwise that seeks to restrict the fundamental rights of the people to freely express themselves shall be repealed and replaced by appropriate legislation that facilitate the exercise of these rights in responsible manner.
“The objective is to adopt a number of concrete legislative measures to open up the democratic space and allow for the free flow of ideas among the citizenry especially to include the enactment of a freedom of information law, the amendment of the information and communications Act, the amendment of the telegraph Act, the repeal of the newspaper and broadcasting stations Act to be replace with a general media Act and the repealing of all laws that justifiably criminalize free speech.
“The constitutional right for freedom of expression and the media is not under any form of threat in the new Gambia and my government remains committed to the idea of a free media environment,” he added.
The Minister concluded by reiterating the government’s commitment to work with the GPU and all stakeholders to ensure that the democratic space is open up for the full and unfettered enjoyment of the right of freedom of expression and the media to operate in free and safe environment.
Ms. Amie Njie Permanent Secretary Ministry for Information Communication and Infrastructure who launched the report on behalf of her Minister, said the review of the media law is not only apt and timely but also strategic in the sense that its intended to help enhance the right to freedom of speech and expression including the freedom of independence of the press and other media outlets as guaranteed by the 1997 constitution.
She added that her ministry is on the final consultations on the review of media legislations to ensure compliance with international freedom of expression best standards and to repeal all laws that have been use to stifle freedom of expression.