The Gambia Press Union (GPU) was founded in 1979, and legally registered with the Office of the Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, in April 1979. The GPU is a non-for-profit, non-political and non-religious trade union of journalism professionals. Since replacing the Gambia Journalists Association, it became the umbrella organisation representing the interest and welfare of journalists in the Gambia. The union also aims to promote media freedom and professionalism.
The founders of the GPU include William Dixon-Colley, Deyda Hydara, Baa Tarawale, M. B. Jones, Ngange Thomas and Pap Saine. In terms of leadership, M.B. Jones was the founding president. He was succeeded by Deyda Hydara who stood down for Demba A. Jawo, who served a two-term presidency. Mr Madi M.K. Ceesay took over and stepped down in 2008, after serving only one tenure. He was succeeded by Ms Ndey Tapha Sosseh, the first female president. In 2011, Bai Emil Touray was elected to replace Ms Sosseh. Mr Touray got re-elected in 2015 to serve another three-year tenure.
The GPU’s growth has been phenomenal but not without challenges. The founders particularly did not succeed in attracting membership from government-controlled media, and the trend continues, though at a lesser degree. This is largely because GPU’s firm stance in safeguarding press freedom, often against the excesses of the powerful, doesn’t delight the government, both past and present.
Therefore, for quite a long time, the GPU continued to operate with a very small membership without even a secretariat of its own. At the beginning, meetings were held at the offices of (defunct) The Nation newspaper on Box Bar Road in Banjul. As the membership increased, meetings were held at the BCC office in Banjul until in 1997 when, with the help of the American Embassy in Banjul, the GPU, under the leadership of Deyda Hydara, got its first secretariat on Atlantic Boulevard.
The GPU was operating with very meager resources. But due to the determination of its small corps of dedicated members, the Union, through the help of donors, undertook many training programmes to raise the standards of professionalism of Gambian journalists. The GPU had a few open confrontations with the former government. One such confrontation was when the government attempted to set up a media regulatory body, the National Press Council. While the bill was passed by the House of Representatives and even assented to by President Jawara, the GPU stood its ground by insisting on not registering with such a council because of its draconian nature. It was indeed quite reminiscent of the famous National Media Commission which was created by the Jammeh administration in 1994 and which the GPU again fought against and won.
Previously, most of the funding was from the Eastern bloc. Under Demba A. Jawo’s presidency, the US embassy supported some capacity building activities. The German embassy join in later. A decade of capacity building was declared, from 1990 to 2000. Partnership has been strengthened. From 2004 to 2005, Unesco and the GPU collaborated with Africa Virtual University to facilitate virtual education for Gambian journalists.
In 2004, a group of journalism students from Denmark undertook a travel visit to Gambia. Confronted by conditions of the Gambia media, they committed to supporting the country’s media with an initial D1M funding. One thing has since been leading to another bigger thing until it climaxed with the establishment of the country’s first school of journalism.
Indeed, the GPU has come a very long way to what it is today. The union has in four decades of its existence significantly evolved from an organisation whose members used to gather under a veranda for meetings into a prominent national institution of international repute. With dynamic executive board and membership as well as a network of national and international partners, we now have a modern secretariat equipped with modern technologies, a radio studio for training purposes, resource centre, training institute, printing press and well-trained and committed staff.