Wednesday, February 2, 2011

'Smiling Coast of Africa, Not Been Smiling Coast for Journalists'

Under the leadership of President Yahya Jammeh, since 1994 to date, for more than a decade, Gambian journalists have battle for their liberty as guaranteed by the Gambian constitution in the face of threats against press freedom. The private media are actually at logger heads with the government. From 1994 to date, the Gambian media is infact one of the sectors that has encounter the severest forms of impunity in the Gambian soil.
    The situation of the media in The Gambia has been an issue of concern to press freedom activists in Africa and around the globe. This is particularly worrisome when one considers the fact that Gambia hosts the secretariat of the regions human rights body the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). A country that plays such a role in the promotion and protection of human rights, one expects the country to be a beacon freedom, but unfortunately this has not been the case for the Gambia government.
  Media personnel are unequivocal about their concern for the lack of freedom of expression in the country and the lack of access to official information. Lack of official information has created a big vacuum in the profession especially those that are working with the independent press. Apart from that, there is hardly anyone in the present government to speak to journalists when directives are not given from the executive.
   Suffice to say that The Gambia is peculiar for being among countries in the sub-region where the head of state and his cabinet ministers do not hold regular press briefings, and coverage’s at state house is open to only few media houses: Radio Gambia, the Television, Gambia Info a government newspaper, and the Daily Observer a Pro- government newspaper. 
 A country that calls itself the smiling coast of Africa has not been a smiling coast for journalists, since President Jammeh took over the country in 1994. His government, one can say had witnessed a number of legal actions taken against journalists just to curtailing the capacities of private media to operate in Gambian soil.
  Freedom of the media is clearly stated in the Gambian constitution Section 25 of the constitution which gives every person the right to freedom of speech and expression which includes freedom of the media. This section permits the public to freely express themselves through the media and the media is free to publish or broadcast their opinion and those of the public. 
   Again, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights also reads "every individual shall have the right to receive information and every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law." For the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 states that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontier." 
   However, within all those commitments by our leaders, it could be considered a relative failure, if we are today counting on the continuous violation against freedom of expression in this 21st century. What is not even advisable in this 21st century is the arrest, attacks, harassments, detention of journalists, intimidation, acts of arson, disappearance and attempted murder with impunity.  There is unnecessary tension and hostility towards the Gambian media. As the saying goes, to deprive a nation of a free press is to rob it of a flourishing democracy. A democracy where people cannot express themselves for or against the government, that government cannot call itself a democratic state. 
    So if Jammeh's government is committed to enhancing the quality of governance in the country, it must stop this clampdown on independent press and journalists working for the independent press. 
  In The Gambia, there have been many clampdowns on the media by Jammeh's government that is the closure of Radio stations and an Independent Newspaper. The country had also witnessed cases involving independent journalists been arrested, attacked, harassments, detention of journalists, intimidation, acts of arson, disappearance and attempted murder with impunity.  Some of the draconian press Acts under President Jammeh's rule that are passed by an act of parliament that hamper the work of journalists includes the Newspaper Act 1994, Libel and Slander, False publication and Sedition. 

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