The Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou, has cleared air over government’s commitment to upholding the basic tenets of democracy including freedom of expression and that of the press.
“I wish to reassure everyone that the constitutional right to freedom of expression and the media is not under any form of threat in the new Gambia and that the Government remains committed to the idea of a free media environment,” he said in his keynote address delivered Monday at the launch of the research paper on the review of media laws held at Djembeh Hotel in Kololi, some 9 in away from Banjul.
Tambadou’s remarks come on the heels of a statement he recently made, indicating that false information laws still exist and that it could be used against any person contravening the law. The move raised eyebrows from some quarters, prompting a good number of media practitioners to ask whether this was a sword of Damocles exhibited by new authorities with a view to prevent them from carrying out their duty to inform.
Minister Tambadou further stated that his statement was taken ‘out of context’ by the media. He then emphasized that the media has “no better friends” anywhere than the current Government.
In an attempt to set the record straight, he said the utterance he made that there are still applicable laws in the country to deter irresponsible conduct was only directed to those who are bent up “to deliberately spread lies for the promotion of personal agendas” at the expense of the country’s fragile peace and stability.
He said this was not a threat targeting the media, noting it has contributed immensely to ending the two-decade long dictatorship by the Jammeh regime. He made it clear that the media will continue to play a huge role in the democratization process.
Dwelling on the issue at hand, Justice Minister Tambadou reechoed his Ministry’s strategic plan which unequivocally states that “all legislation, 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or otherwise, that seeks to restrict the fundamental rights of the people to freely express themselves shall be repealed and replaced by appropriate legislation that facilitates the exercise of this right in a responsible manner”.
The 21-page document launched by Gambia Press Union (GPU) was drafted by renowned human rights lawyer Hawa Sise Sabally. The research paper aimed at promoting the advocacy for an enabling environment for freedom of expression and that of the media.
Tambadou evoked the tripartite memorandum of understanding that was endorsed by the Ministry
of Justice, the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, and Article 19, a leading media watchdog.
“The aim is to help guide the media law reform process in the country and to bring our media laws in line with international best practice,” he said.
Under the previous regime, journalists were the leading targets as ex-dictator Jammeh mounted a systematic clampdown on dissenting views. A situation that forced many of them to flee the country for fear of persecution.
The Justice Minister revealed that the drafting department of his Ministry has since been working closely with the Article 19 team in the country after recommendations were made by the media law review committee which is comprised of key Government stakeholders and the GPU.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Information, Communication and Infrastructure, Ebrima Sillah, the Permanent Secretary Amie Njie-Joof said, the review of the media laws is not only apt and timely, but strategic as it is aimed at helping to enhance the right to freedom of speech and expression.
She seized the opportunity to highlight the correlation between press freedom and development, outlining UNESCO’s viewpoint
suggesting that “press freedom along with other indicators of good governance, creates the environment favourable for sustainable development.”
PS Amie Njie-Joof disclosed that gov’t is on the ‘final consultations’ on the review of media laws which has the objective to not only ensure compliance with international standards, but also to ‘repeal all laws that have been used to stifle freedom of the press.’
She indicated that the report of the media law review committee is already on the desk of the Information Minister and they are working with the Ministry ofJustice Minister to make sure that the recommendations are endorsed by Cabinet before its subsequent enactment or amendment by the country’s lawmaking body.
In an early statement GPU President Sheriff Bojang Jr. made it clear that the research paper is not an encyclopedic survey, adding the document focuses on “certain laws that need urgent attention.”
He thanked gov’t for showing “good gesture” and doing what should have been done a long time ago.
Bojang said the reforms contained in the research paper geared towards ensuring the safety of journalists in allow them to hold policy makers and decision makers accountable.
The Chairperson of The Association of Non-governmental Organisations (TANGO) warned journalists against bias news reporting.
“Move beyond political affiliation,” he told journalists, urging them to focus on the interests of the Nation rather than individual interests.
“Since we are speaking truth to power, let us speak truth to ourselves. Let us work together and increase on areas where we are strong and become a better nation.”
Last but not least, Foroyaa newspaper editor Sam Sarr said democracy cannot thrive without free media.
He further stated that without media laws that protect the freedom of the press through an enabling environment, such democracy will be meaningless.
“We need the media to ensure that a govt is held accountable, but also to create a platform for debate.”