Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Free and Fair Election Is Not Only Casting Vote, But……

Free and equal rights of every person to participate in a system of government, often practised by a system of election representative of the people, by the majority of the people in its simplest term can be refers to democracy.
Equally, the media on the other hand, is essential to the conduct of democratic election processes.
 As every Tom, Dick and Harry will say, a free and fair election is not only about casting vote in proper conditions, but also about having adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself so that voters can make an informed choice.

Therefore, one holds the belief that all these adequate information can be known by the public using the medium of mass media to reach the masses. 
A democratic election with no media freedom would be a contradiction in terms, therefore, media in The Gambia especially independent press need to be free so as to do its functions effectively in maintaining free flow of information in a democratic state. 
But the paradox is that, in order to ensure that freedom, a degree of regulation is required to regulate the electoral process.
This goes to the government media whose funded out of public money, should be required to give fair coverage and equitable access to opposition parties. 
Then one may ask the question, why the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), Gambia Info a government newspaper and the Daily Observer a pro- government newspaper is not going by. The multi million question is when will GRTS and other go by the rules of the game-in election reporting.
Again, the question one will be tempted to ask when media in the Gambian electoral cycle be allow to run reports on exit polls or early result before every vote has been cast.
As usual in the Gambian media, the media only waits for the final well-tailored announcement through the state media (GRTS) by electioneering authorities. 
The media, democracy and development seek to examine the role the media could play to encourage political debate and provide information for development.
There is the prime concern of voters to obtain full and accurate information from both the public and private media.
However parties and candidates are entitled to use the media to get their messages across to the electorate.
The media themselves have the right to report freely and to scrutinize the whole election process. This scrutiny is in itself an additional important safeguard against interference or corruption in the management of the election.
 Political parties and candidates tend to find the media, and the in particular GRTS, more and more important for campaigning which has always been dominated by Jammeh]s ruling party.
Because GRTS is widely regarded as the most important instrument for campaigning and communication to the voters by Jammeh’s government as it gives a widespread coverage and audience.
If there is to be some regulation of what the media may not do during an election, then logically this is likely to apply to GRTS during specific campaign period.
Jammeh’s government has wisely used ‘dialogue with the peoples’ tour’ to campaign. This period has wisely been use by Jammeh to campaign before the official period for elections.
In the recent concluded your, he told the nation that he was not campaigning but only fools will listen to him as we have seen in some place talking tough for those who don’t vote for his party.
Clearly, this is telling us that he is campaigning for more vote in the 24th November, 2011 polls.
Nevertheless, this year’s election period campaigning period has been announced to be only ten days for all parties.
The media have the role to inform the citizens about the competing political parties with their candidates, and to contribute to the formation of opinion of the electorates.
This may include formal voter education material provided by the electoral management body.
Media coverage during elections is fair and object reporting, and information dissemination.
This can, for instance, be achieved through measures such as; a just allocation of broadcasting time between all the competing parties and candidates.
As a state media, GRTS should take not that, it is crucial in the first instance for the management to ensure that every party is given equal time opportunity.
That means a broadcaster is not entitled to influence public opinion through the biased treatment of one or another candidate or party.
This has not been the case for GRTS as we have seen reporter influencing their reports during election campaigns. 
But still it is often the management who decides who is gaining access to the television. 
GRTS one can vividly say that is manipulated by Jammeh’s government to report in his favour.
Manipulation has taken root at GRTS, the designing of their programmes, reports, and news, discussion and panel discussions has been dominated by president Jammeh and the APRC party activities. 
The danger of misuse of government power for campaigning purposes can be limited if laws and regulations are in place to regulate the role of the media in the election campaign especially GRTS.

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