Monday, February 7, 2011

A look at Media Security and Freedom

NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA(MB)- It is no news to state that Journalists in The Gambia are faced with enormous challenge in doing their job. In the Gambia, under President Yahya AJJ Jammeh’s government, journalist working for the independent media has been facing lots of harassment, including torture, unlawful detentions, and numerous threats for doing their work, and considered by the government to be very critical is a deep rooted report in the country. Others have been exiled, missing and killed in addition to the closure of media houses both print and electronic who are viewed critical to government.This has made it difficult to see the private sector giving the media the regard it deserved when all the lineup of the government arms (Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary) are constantly hostile to the media.
Infact reports have indicated that “the liberty of the Gambian press has been rendered a mockery and delusion and the phrase itself and by word because if everyone is at liberty to publish harmless publication, the authorities would not punish him or her”. These realities in no doubt posed a huge obstacle  for the emerging and young journalists who are filled with passion and commitment to push the pen and or spit into the microphone and excel in this noble profession to conform their desire, talent and skills in the interest of the society.
In view of the above challenges, the Young Journalists’ Association of The Gambia was formed in 2007. The formation of Young Journalists’ Association of the Gambia (YJAG) in 2007 with the objective of promoting unity among young journalists in The Gambia and the fight for media freedom among others originate from these and much more daunting challenge they are faced with as practicing journalists.
In promoting media freedom, and complimenting the effort of The Gambia Press Union (GPU), it could be recalled that the association as part of celebrations marking their 3rd anniversary 16th September 2010, held a parade a match past along the Kairaba Avenue, one of the busiest high road in the greater Banjul Area in celebration of its third year anniversary at Joint Officers Mess with the magnitude of the Match which was led by the Police Band.
The theme for the third year celebration of the formation of the young journalists’ association is “Promoting the welfare of young journalists in The Gambia.”
In his statement, the President of the Association, Mr. Assan Sallah said at the meeting that Young journalists are regarded as the life blood of media houses especially the print media, their welfare should be a great concern to all especially the media chiefs that they are serving.
Young Journalists VS Media Heads
It was clear that stimulating detail discussion of all hardship facing young journalist before the panelists was exactly what some of them went there for. The reaction from the young journalists opened when the Publisher of Today Newspaper, Mr. Abdul Hamid Adiamoh opined that the idea of “how young journalists could able to promote their own welfare” would have been more suitable than the theme “Promoting the welfare of young journalists in The Gambia”. His opinion could be interpreted as a way of posing young journalist into further challenge to learn how to live and let live within their media institutions. He clearly preached that “your own life is on your own hands”, adding that “promoting your welfare is on your own hands”.
On the issue of training, the young journalists became so silent when Sam Sarr, Managing Editor of Foroyaa Newspaper cum Board Member of YJAG narrated  a practical scenario to acknowledge the importance of the theme of the celebration. Agriculturally, “if you plant a tree and it is growing well, what will happen to that tree if you deprive it from water”, he asked? Just like life in the forest according to Mr. Sarr some journalists can survive in harsh conditions while others cannot.
Based on experience, he disclosed that while some of the young journalists are doing well to improve, others are more concern of working to gain their living. To him, failure of any journalist to meet standard in his/her work and character could be diagnose with many reasons. It could be because “the journalist does not have the commitment, zeal or he or she does not (grip) ethics of the profession”.
Further on the issue of capacity building Alieu Sagnia, former Director of Information Service who is also a freelance Editor at the Gambia News and Report Weekly Magazine said training of young journalist is a continuous process in the media field.
According to him, the moments for journalists to worry about lack of training has passed thanks to the emergence of what he called distance learning through the internet. He urged them not to wait for any formal training from either The Gambia Press Union or their own media institutions to equip themselves with the necessary capacity for them to exercise their duties better. He also advised them to hook the internet in addition to extensively reading books, magazines, newspapers etc in order to improve in language, ethics and standard as journalists. He encouraged them to take it upon themselves to always compare their manuscripts with the publish versions of their works on their various media outlets in any edition with a view to improve in their response to assignments.
Media Constraints
The young journalists were left with no option but to wait for the discussion time in order to exchange their views with the various panellists at the ceremony. They used the opportunity to raise some more issues that are specially hindering their welfare as active journalists in the field.
Their views showed that writing a complete report from an assignment with few or no mistake is part of nourishment to the welfare of every young journalist. They cried on the need to have enough time on the typing computer and the internet in their newsrooms to do all the necessary research and type their stories on their own. They argued that journalists are not always opportune to have enough access of these facilities to help them work on their stories before and after their assignments.
This time media chiefs could be seen noting with concern that the young journalists have got a point which warrant urgent attention. But on why has this been a case as in the words of Musa S. Sheriff, Publisher of the Voice Newspaper is the exorbitant cost of printing material of a newspaper. This alone, he said involve so much sacrifice for them before a paper is out in the market in addition to the high electricity and communication bill which awaits them at the end of every month.
Security of Young Journalists
This is one of the most important issue in any media discussion owing it to the nature of media and press freedom in the country.
The gambia has been a pendulum on media freedom and freedom of expression. One may feel that there is freedom of expressions in a  minute but would not be surprise when in the next minute find that the press is supressed by government.
The issue of security of young journalist could not yield a fruitful discussion at the YJAG 3rd annivassary because the government was not represented despite the number of invitation made by the young journalists. It could only provide the police band to provide tunes using their flutes and drums to match with the movement of their feet but leaving the journalists doubful on the  meaning of the police tunes in version and context despite the fact that they followed the matching pattern.
May be this situation has prevented the young journalists’ to blame government and held them accountable for their part in the harassment and intimidation of young journalists in the Gambia.
However, the President of YJAG has said that his association has “discussed with the Interior Minister and his team on plans to come up with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between YJAG and the Interior Ministry to ensure that no young journalist is harassed or intimidated, and in the event of arrest or any other problem, the YJAG executive will be alerted immediately so that we can have a dialogue with the security to facilitate the release of the journalist(s) as soon as possible”.
According to Mr. Sallah, the Interior Ministry has in-turn given them assurance that the proposed MOU will be cross-checked and treated fairly as expected.

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