Gambia: New government revives press freedom in Gambia

Banjul, Gambia (PANA) - Gambia's new government under President Adama Barrow has undoubtedly registered some significant achievements though it faces a lot of challenges, Information, Communication and Infrastructure minister Demba Ali Jawo said on Tuesday.

“While not all those achievements are quite so tangible that one can lay his finger on them, but even the very fact that people are now free to speak their minds on any issue without fearing any retribution, is quite an achievement,” Jawo told PANA in an exclusive interview on the government’s 100 days in power.

He said his ministry’s major priorities for media development in the new Gambia include creating the conducive atmosphere for both the public and private media to operate in without any inhibition.

"These priorities can no doubt be achieved by building trust between the government and the various stakeholders," he said.
During the 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh, government had poor relations with the media, often punctuated with incidents of open harassment of journalists, killings and disappearance of journalists, closing and burning of media houses while many Gambian journalists were forced to find their safety in exile.cise.  

In the minister's view, the best way to improve government-media relations would be to create congenial atmosphere in which the two sides can continuously dialogue as partners rather than seeing each other as adversaries.

“It is the objective of this government to uphold the constitutional provisions that guarantee press freedom and the best way to achieve that is for all the parties to ensure that they play their part in adhering to the rules of the game,” he pointed out.

Jawo explained that his ministry intends to either repeal or amend media legislation which inhibit freedom of the press. "Already, we have started consultations with both the Ministry of Justice and the Gambia Press Union as to how we can achieve that objective," he said.

Jawo is former president of the Gambia Press Union and former editor of some newspapers in  Gambia,

"While the ministry is ready to help empower the media and create the right atmosphere for journalists, including the Gambia Press Union to operate, it is certainly not within the purview of the ministry to take urgent steps to improve GPU,” he said.

Jawo concurred there had been a policy in place to prevent journalists of public media from becoming members or even participating in the activities of the GPU, but he assured that part of the ongoing reforms aim to enable all journalists to belong to any professional association of their choice.

On access to information from government offices and officials, the minister said: “Indeed access to information by journalists had always been a major problem, with various rules in place prohibiting public servants from talking to journalists without prior permission from their superiors.

"These are some of the reforms that we want to put in place in order to create a level playing field for journalists to operate in. We are also considering the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act which will make it much easier for journalists to have access to information in the public domain.”

“I wish to assure you that paying a visit to all the media houses is part of my immediate plans, as it is part of the channels of regular dialogue that I intend to open with the private media.”

Recalling his experience during the dictatorial rule of Jammeh, he said that like all those who worked as journalists in this country during the past 22 years, it was definitely not easy as the playing field was far from level. "I endured some intimidation by the regime and its agents, and I also witnessed the harassment of some of my colleagues, including the assassination of Deyda Hydara.

"However, that experience under the previous regime should be a lesson to all of us, both in government and the media, to ensure that such a situation never again be allowed to arise in this country."

The minister had a message to all journalists in Gambia: "Despite the challenges and constraints that this government is confronted with, we are quite eager to create the level playing field for everyone to operate in without any undue inhibition. Therefore, all that we want is the understanding and cooperation of all the stakeholders, both at home and abroad.

"The ministry is quite ready to cooperate with everyone in order to project the correct image of what is happening instead of relying on rumours and speculations,” he concluded.

-0- PANA MSS/AR 2May2017

02 may 2017 17:28:34

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