29.05.2017 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Gambia Celebrates World Press Freedom Day

In the framework of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated annually on May 3rd, The Gambia Press Union (GPU), with support from UNESCO, hosted a series of activities to mark the International Day in The Gambia. This was the first World Press Freedom Day Celebration under the new Government that came to power in early 2017. The celebration occured in the framework of the project “Journalism and Media,” launched in October 2016, of the EU's Governance Programme, contributing with 691,583 euro (approximately equivalent to 35 million dalasi) to media reform in The Gambia.

The overall objective of this project, implemented by UNESCO, is to contribute to better democratic governance through improving freedom of the press and the quality of information available to the population. This project is part of a wider Governance Programme of 10 million euro (approximately equivalent to 500 million dalasi) financed by the European Union in the Gambia, which includes several components such as: (i) Access to Justice and Legal Education, (ii) Journalism and Media, and (iii) Public Financial Management.

On Wednesday morning of May 3rd, journalists and press freedom advocates embarked on a peaceful procession. Participants walked through the streets of Kairaba Avenue, the country’s business hub, to the offices of the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure. Wearing t-shirts printed with the global theme for this year’s event, “Critical Minds for Critical times: the Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies,” more than two hundred journalists took part in the procession. Representatives of about two dozen civil society organisations and several state security officials who benefitted from a previous training of security forces on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists also took part in the march.

Upon arrival at the Ministry, the GPU Secretary General, Mr Saikou Jammeh, presented a position paper to the Honourable Minister, Demba Ali Jawo, who received the delegation. The position paper contains 16 requests geared towards creating an enabling environment for freedom of expression and the further development of professional journalism in the Gambia. The position paper, developed and validated by the GPU ahead of World Press Freedom Day, contains proposals for comprehensive media sector reforms, which include media law and policy review, institutional capacity development, the improvement of working conditions, and the safety of journalists.

The Minister Demba Jawo assured journalists present of the Government’s commitment to give consideration to the position paper. Underlining his commitment, he stated: “I can assure you that we are going to look at the demands in the letter and they will be addressed as far as our capacity is concerned. You now have all the press freedom you are asking for, and the Government will allow journalists to do their work without harassment or hindrance. We will eradicate laws that do not comply to international human rights standards, and there will be press freedom for everybody.”

From the Ministry, the participants proceeded to the Faculty of Law, University of the Gambia for a symposium on Freedom of Expression The symposium included the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Omar Jallow, and the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Mr Demba Ali Jawo. Other speakers included the EU Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Atilla Lajos, and Mr Jeremy Leszek Bialy, from UNESCO. The Special Guests were Lars Moller of the Denmark-based non-profit Gambia Media Support and Suleiman Braimah, executive director of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

Speaking at the official opening ceremony, Lars Moller of GAMES hailed the GPU for organising the event, and the partners for their support. He renewed his organisation’s commitment to supporting the Gambian media, especially in light of commitments of the Government to promoting freedom of expression.

Suleiman Braimah, from the Media Foundation for West Africa, underlined that journalists from across West Africa experience challenges related to freedom of expression, despite almost two decades of democratization and the liberalization of the media environment, but that gains with respect to media pluralism and freedom of the press are beginning to be felt. Underlining recent political development in the country, Mr. Braimah emphasized the need for critical minds to build a society that is inclusive, just and peaceful, and that journalists play a crucial role in this democratic process.

The EU Ambassador, Attila Lajos, emphasizing the important role of journalists in promoting democracy and development, underlined that media should not only be a source of information but also a platform for a multitude of voices in mobilizing tolerance and dialogue. Mr. Leszek Bialy, from UNESCO, underlined the current challenges media face, including the rise in digital networks, social media, citizen journalism, and declining trust in the credibility of the news. Reflecting the official message of the Director General of UNESCO on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, he underlined that “the media must not only be a source of reliable information -- it should provide a platform for a multitude of voices and mobilise new forces for tolerance and dialogue. The stakes are clear. We need original, critical and well-researched journalism, guided by high professional, ethical standards and a quality media education - combined with audiences that have the right media and information literacy skills.”

The Minister of Information, Communications and Infrastructure, Demba A. Jawo, reiterated that journalists should not be left behind and that the reform of media laws is among the top priorities of the new government; “We we will depend on you to play your part in national reconciliation,” the Minister underlined to journalists present. He said one of the objectives of World Press Freedom Day is for journalists to reflect on their achievements and challenges, but with the new Gambia the media has been given an even more robust role to play in consolidating that change.

The opening ceremony was followed by a public lecture. The Dean of School of Journalism and Digital Media, at the University of The Gambia, Mr. Nana Grey-Johnson, gave the lecture on the topic: ‘New Gambia: Is It New for Journalists? Underlining that the change in Government presents new opportunities, Mr. Grey-Johnson implored journalists to build their capacities and competencies to be able to maximize the benefits of these opportunities.

Mr Gibairu Janneh, former Secretary General of the GPU, gave a lecture on the topic “Critical Minds for Critical Times: the Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.” Mr Janneh explained that inclusive doesn’t mean that everyone must enhance a single narrative. It doesn’t mean uniformity either. What it means is respect for all shapes of views and opinions. He urged journalists to be open-minded in order to participate in the process of justice and reconciliation in the country.

This Celebration, part of an ongoing capacity building initiative coordinated by UNESCO in the Gambia with the support of the European Union, is implemented in the framework of UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC). The IPDC is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. The Programme not only provides support for media projects but also seeks an accord to secure a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media in developing countries. The efforts of the IPDC have had an important impact on a broad range of fields covering, among others, the promotion of media independence and pluralism, development of community media, radio and television organizations, modernization of national and regional news agencies, and training of media professionals. The IPDC strives to implement effective media projects that empower people to gain equitable access to knowledge and express themselves through free and pluralistic media.

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