Gambia Press Union (GPU) President, Sheriff Bojang Jr, has called on public officials to be more open to media practitioners as the country’s Public Service Standing Orders continue to restrict access to information.
“Unless journalists are given access to information that is crucial to the country, rumours, fake news and insinuations are going to be the order of the day. We cannot do anything about it,” Sheriff Bojang Jr. said in a statement he delivered on the occasion of the celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2019, which was held at the Auditorium of the University of the Gambia, located along MDI road in Kanifing.
The Gambia is gradually transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, with authorities vowing to right the wrongs of the past. Though the end of the ‘rule of fear’ has ushered a new era for Gambians in general, journalists are still confronted with major hurdles that need to be cleared for the media to be able to use its full potential.
GPU President decried the fact that some private news outlets have to rely on press releases from State House to carry on their duty to inform.
Bojang laid two options on the table: the government can either grant access to private media or block it. “These are some options that he (President Barrow) should decide,” GPU boss voiced out.
In a similar vein, Amnesty International Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Evelyn Pretus Barry said the World Press Freedom Day is about defending the fundamental principles of the media, including access to information.
“We must remember that when journalists are targeted, society pay the prices,” she remarked. “We need to make sure that access to information is always available.”
The Gambia’s Information Minister Ebrima Sillah reminded the gathering about the fact that since 2017, government has joined hands with the GPU, Article 19 and other international media watchdogs to brainstorm on issues pertaining to press freedom and the reform of the legislation currently in existence.
Mr. Sillah highlighted the giant strides made by the National Consultative Committee that was set up to address important issues affecting journalists.
Commenting on the issue of access to information, Information Minister disclosed that public officials can only talk when authorised by the Secretary General who also doubles as the Head of the Civil Service. He then announced that plans are in gear for every ministry to recruit its own communication officer, which he hoped would put an end to the problems journalists are confronted with.
This year’s celebration was also punctuated by the screening of a documentary by Amnesty International, highlighting the role played by human rights defenders to build the momentum for regime change.
Former GPU President Emil Touray, veteran lawyer Antoumane Gaye, human rights lawyers Hawa Sesay Sabally and Salieu Taal, and journalist Haddija Jawara shed light on the path they have taken to challenge the two-decade long dictatorship.
The documentary has also captured one of the poignant moments when Chief Ebrima Manneh’s father, Pa Sarjo Manneh, explained the tribulations he went through in order to get answers about the ‘disappearance’ of his son…