A rare dialogue between the government and the independent media that seeks to smooth out the bitter relations between the two witnessed renewed calls by journalists for government to make legal and policy reforms inorder to allow an unimpeded access and free flow of information.
Held on Wednesday at Statehouse, the meeting was described by both the media and government officials as a significant move towards settling the differences.
“I would not wish to rekindle the fire of the old wounds,” said Mr Swaebou Conateh, the editor/publisher of The Gambia News & Report weekly magazine, referring to the detentions, prosecutions, attacks and the mysterious killing of Deyda Hydara, founder of The Point newspaper and disappearance of journalist Ebrima Manneh of Daily Observer.
Conateh added: “However, it is not too late to adjust or re-adjust the position, so that the Gambia can, among its many achievements under the Jammeh administration, boast of having the most free press in Africa, if not in the whole world.
Being the oldest practicing journalist in the country, Swaebou said: “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.”
Conateh calls for the decriminalizing of speech since one is in contravention with the universal principles as the free flow of information is necessary for human understanding cooperation and developments.
“Our laws on sedition publication our libel laws and false publication laws are either archaic or out of step with the information age and should be repealed or revealed” saying that other countries have done this.
Swaebou also called on the government to have an open door policy, recommending for the president, interior and foreign ministries to hold regular press briefing to entertain questions from media on offices they hold to clarify it to the public.
“I know you are capable of doing it,” Conateh told the president, “But there is some reluctance on your part which makes us to have doubts about your intentions.”
Mr Pap Saine, Managing Director and co-publisher of The Point newspaper emphasized the need for the independent press to access to government news in order to effectively execute its constitutional mandate to disseminate information about the activities of the government for the benefit of the public.
“We want to make our position very clear that we are not an enemy to the state,” said Mr Saine, whose friend Deyda Hydara was gunned-down by unknown assailants since 2004. “The journalist does not see himself or herself in that role. We are neither backers of nor the opposition. Our job requires us to report on both the pleasant and the sordid aspects of society.”
According to Sam Sarr, Editor of Foroyaa newspaper, governments have to be kept on their toes in order to assist them to become more effective, and also to preempt wrong doings and errors that may be created in the process of governance.
Mr Sarr highlighted that rather than government cooperating to bring about justice to the case of Deyda and others, there is uneasiness on the part of the executive whenever such cases are mentioned.
According to him, the government is taking pride in allowing the large number of radio stations, but the fundamental question that should be asked is where they are allowed to broadcast local news.
“There must be an alternative broadcast,” said Sam Sarr, who was among the six journalists jailed last year after found guilty sedition and defamation, but release after two months following presidential pardon.
“There must be divergent views and dissenting opinion,” he added.
For Abdul Adiamoh, publisher of Today Newspaper, The Gambia is a very beautiful country, but the Gambian media is denied to portray the image of the country.
Adiamoh said he is a Nigerian, but he considers himself as a Gambian. He told the president that throughout his extended stay in the country, he has not seen a single Gambian journalist locally who is set out to vilify the country.