Tuesday, April 12, 2011
SWAEBOU CONATEH OF NEWS AND REPORT MAGAZINE
NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA (MB)- FOR THE RECORDS, MANSABANKO, WISH TO PUBLISH THE STATEMENT DELIVERED BY MR. SWAEBOU CONATEH THE PUBLISHER AND MANAGING EDITOR OF THE GAMBIA NEWS AND REPORT MAGAZINE, COURTESY CALL ON JAMMEH BY MEDIA CHIEFS IN BANJUL, THE GAMBIA.
COURTESY CALL ON H.E. THE PRESIDENT, CHEIKH PRO. ALHAJI DR. YAHYA A.J.J. JAMMEH, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
WEDNESDAY, 16 MARCH. 2011
I do not plan to be long in this intervention in view of the number of possible speakers and because of the valuable time your excellency is offering to us from his very busy schedule. I can say that we are all grateful for the kind gesture.
I should first of all thank Fatou Camara, who in just a few days of assuming this high office in the office of the president, has shown the imagination and drive to call for this meeting. The high level of attendance despite the short notice goes to confirm our appreciation of her effort and of the significance of the meeting.
I happen to be the oldest practicing journalist in this country, though I will not tell my age. Suffice it to say that I have practised journalism in this country and in other countries for more than 50 years and have therefore been acquainted with the practice and nature of the journalism profession as a result. During this time, I have also been privileged to have made it possible for so many of our young men and women to not only join the profession but to rise to the top through training and self drive. Among these am proud to say is the present Director General of GRTS, Alhaji Momodou Sanyang.
From what I understand to be the purpose of this meeting by Fatou Camara, the idea is to bring about wider understanding between government and media in this country. It goes without saying that the relations could not have been worse than now. However, it is not too late to adjust the position so that the Gambia can among its many achievements under your government also boast of having one of the freest press in Afrrica if not in the world.
I would not wish to rekindle the fire of old wounds, like the detentions, the prosecutions which have taken place and the mysterious killings and disappearance of our journalist. I also do not think we will do justice to our profession and our country by turning this unique and very rare opportunity into a mere cosmetic, public relations exercise. I therefore propose to take the bull by the horns to ask for certain programmes of the government to be carried out in order to make more satisfactory and systematic progress on what is now a vexed question. Let it be noted that many of these proposals have already become the norm in many African countries.
In terms of legislation I would like to include decriminalising speech. It is noteworthy to see that only journalists and politicians have been accorded special rights in our constitution as the many provisions on freedom of expression and of the press show. We should therefore like to say as the Chinese to let a thousand flowers bloom. We are grateful for the enabling environment which has led to the proliferation of radio stations and the coming to the fore of so many newspapers. We salute your government for such an achievement. To build on this fine record, I would like to recommend the following, and should add that expertise is available in country, within the Commonwealth, to help government under the necessary studies and bring about the recommended reforms.
In the area of free speech, we should decriminalise speech since otherwise one is in contradiction to universal principles as the free flow of information, which is necessary for human understanding, cooperation and developments. Our laws on seditious publication, our libel laws and false publications laws are either archaic or out of step with the information age and should be repealed or reviewed.
We should also have a freedom of information act as this will provide correct rather than clandestine means of gaining access to government information the public already have a right to under our constitution.
Finally, I should like to recommend that government provide the platform for regular press briefings, especially at the president's office, the foreign office and the interior ministry. This will afford both government and press a clearing house for information and obviate the publication of false information. Government should therefore have an open door approach in its dealings with the press as a matter of policy and practice. Officials should be allowed to meet members of the press, give interviews and answer any questions to make it possible for information to flow easily between government and the wider public.
Above all, the press conferences of the presidency to which all journalists accredited for the occassion should be reconstituted.
With this humble submission, I thank your excellency, the President, for affording us this opportunity and hope that the recommendations made will be given due consideration. I can assure you that we media house owners or publishers and the press union will always be available to offer further advice on any or all of these points. Thank you.