Is There Anything to Celebrate on World Press Freedom Day?
Fatoumatta: Today is World Press Freedom Day, or so they say. I had initially argued that from a peculiar perspective the idea of press freedom is a grand deception but have since revised my argument to the new effect that press freedom does exists after all, but governments the world over only grant them to journalists only to steal it back with various laws: The Gambia is no exception. ( See Part 2).
Fatoumatta: The job of a watchmaker is not to tell time, but to create an instrument with which you can tell what time it is. However, a watchmaker who doesn’t know what time it is cannot succeed in his job without misleading others.
Fatoumatta: Our job as journalists is to provide information through which we, the public can tell the kind of times we live in. However, if as reporters, we are oblivious to the state of our nation, we are bound to misinform.
Every year on May 3, journalists celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; we show cause why our existence in accordance with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be defended. We pay tribute to journalists who have lost lives in the line of duty, and we remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the people’s rights to freedom of expression. But if there are any journalists in the Gambia this year who are celebrating World Press Freedom Day with a view to advancing any of the above causes, then we are not any different from those who are suppressing freedom of expression.
Today, journalists will commemorate, march like we always do; we will listen to rhetoric from our media leaders demanding the same old Access to Information Bill, and we will hear more threats from government officials – sugarcoated in their commitment to protecting ETHICAL media houses. Like mourners at the funeral of a relative who succumbed to malaria, we will regret the death of press freedom in Gambia without mentioning or condemning the killer. But we know the truth and the truth must be said. If there is any immunity left for journalists to report facts, then there is no better day to do so than May 3, 2018 when we join government of President Barrow to celebrate their achievement in raping independent journalism.
Like a time, conscious watchmaker, we are alive to the fact that this government has captured private media in one way or another and is molesting it without a Vaseline – as Julius Malema put it. From December 2016 to date, journalists have not made great news headlines. This has been a period in which politicians reported the news they wanted the public to hear while journalists remain quiet.
A year when the civil society assumed a front row sit in witnessing injustice and chose to join the blind activists in doing nothing about it. At a distance Gambians watch in awe how this government has succeeded to pit journalist against journalist, media house against another, leaving no one to report corruption, racketeering and the political injustices being inflicted on political parties and individuals who dare criticize those in power.
The damage caused to the media landscape has left an indelible mark on Gambia’s nascent democracy and the economy thereof. What is worse is that no one in government is listening. And while they are still on speaking the truth, they might as well say that our Minister of Information should begin the reform process in repealing all archaic and draconian laws press laws.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia press deserve labor rights. It’s time to see the Gambia government, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and media owners adopt the Collective Bargaining Framework as relates to the International Labor Organization conventions 87,89 and 135 on the working condition of journalists, a redemptive landmark achievement in the struggle for press freedom. Our Minister should engage the Gambia Press Union and the Government to revise and uphold bargaining labor laws in improving Journalists wages and welfare.
Fatoumatta: Gambians don’t mind the fact that President Barrow appointed a hustler to run the Ministry of Youth and Sports and an Arsenal fan in charge of the Ministry of Justice – it is his government and he can choose who to appoint. But it is also within our right, at least for today, to inform him that if it was his intention to appoint the most experienced person about journalism, to oversee the ministry of Information and Broadcasting, then he made an excellent choice in appointing Mr. Demba Ali Jawo.
It’s a pity that this Govt and team at the Ministry with vast experience in journalism and public policy serving in this government both in the executive, legislature even though, they can’t say it, they know the needs and aspirations of Gambian journalists, no one doesn’t necessarily need to tell them the urgency to repeal all draconian media laws that are inimical to press freedom and help solidify press freedom in the country.
Fatoumatta: No one doubts the competency of the Minister and he clearly understands the role of the media and the institutions which regulate media operations in the country. Even if we are to negotiate for tolerance from President Barrow’s government on Journalists special Day, where do they start from?
Fatoumatta:Past and present government boasts that it is only in the Gambia, government issue dozens of radio stations licenses across the country and more television broadcasting licenses; but is it a secret that past and present government in Gambia’s media history managed to shut down radio stations and newspapers, most latest, The Daily Observer, a private media organization in less than six months in power was shut down?
Today as Journalists commemorate World Press Freedom Day in the Gambia, they must realize that they are saying goodbye to press freedom. Those journalists and media practitioners in the private and public media will be conceding defeat to a bellicose regime unless they resist the paymaster and stick to ethical, credible journalism. Yes, there is still hope, but when will journalists regain their journalistic liberty, when will the end of hatred between journalist and journalist, the scheming by one media house against another end.
Fatoumatta: The main concern is that most of these issues raised have been raised before. Gambian journalists need action and commitment from the government. We need protection of journalists from abuse from political forces and from their employers. We need a fair working environment that promotes the growth of independent critical media. We need a legal environment that supports the work of journalists and that allows the media to thrive as a community service to the nation. We need a conducive environment that treats the media sector as an equal opportunity employer and as business.
Fatoumatta: Using taxpayers’ money and state institutions like the Gambia’s Revenue Authority and the Gambia Police to suffocate the media must stop. Banning government wings and departments from advertising in private media and those media deemed critical of the state needs to stop.