Issued by Halifa Sallah
We have watched and listened very carefully to the statements made by heads of media houses in the Gambia and that delivered by President Jammeh. PDOIS deems it necessary to state our policy on the Media just to convince the Gambian people how a government that is genuinely committed to the protection to freedom of expression and freedom of the Media would have handled the first major encounter between the Gambian Media and the Executive.
We have reflected on every word uttered by heads of media houses and those uttered by the members of the executive. We have weighed their words against the scales of reason and decency. We want the Gambian people in particular and those who have heard the programme to reflect on the words of the two sides and judge for themselves which side has displayed greater maturity and decency.
We in PDOIS would like to affirm that contrary to what President Jammeh had said that it is not his aim to appease the media fraternity, democratic governance is inconceivable without appeasing the sovereign people.
The Constitution is very clear on this and we will never get tired of repeating its very words that “The Sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia from whom all organs of Government derive their authority and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised….”
Democracy is government by consent. Consent comes through appeasement. A government has a role to lead by consent or rule by coercion. There is no middle road. Those who lead by consent are called democrats and those who rule by coercion are called tyrants. Each government has to choose one system or the other.
PDOIS is committed to lead by consent. It is left to the APRC to decide how it intends to govern.
This is why we value the opinions expressed by heads of the Media houses. If we were in the shoes of the President we would have asked the Attorney General to take note when the heads spoke about the need to repeal unfriendly media laws and the recommendation to enact a Freedom of Information Act. We would have asked the Minister of Finance to take note of the complaints lodged against levies and taxes that make it difficult for the Media houses to operate. The Minister of information would have been asked to take note of the restrictions placed on the State media and Non Governmental Radio stations in broadcasting divergent views and dissenting opinions. The Minister of the Interior would have been asked to take note of the concerns raised regarding diligent investigation into the cases of Journalists like Deyda Hydara and Chief Manneh. The Head of the Civil Service would have been asked to take note of the concerns about access to information from public servants.
We would have raised the issue of a self regulatory mechanism to ensure that the media publishes or broadcasts the truth in good faith in the public interest, retract wrong reports and render apologies. We would have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Media operatives and consult them in the appointment of any Minister of Information.
Did the President and his Vice President and Ministers take this approach? The answer is in the negative.
They made allegations that journalists are untrained when most reporters have undergone and are undergoing training to develop their professionalism. They claim that journalists do not publish the good things the government does even though the pages of newspapers are filled with reports of workshops, seminars, projects launched or press releases issued by government institutions. They gave the impression that in the West one could only be a journalist if one has a diploma or degree in journalism when some renowned journalists and broadcasters had never been in the four cornered walls of a school of journalism and had developed their professionalism through apprenticeship. They gave the impression that in the West newspapers do not give support to political parties when one could even classify newspapers ideologically in those countries.
In our view, in any democratic society, there is the state media which is maintained by the tax payers and the non-state media which is maintained through its readers and clients for advertisement. In such a country a party must be divorced from the state and the state media must publish or broadcast divergent views and dissenting opinion.
It goes without saying that since the media is a mere instrument for the amplification of the voices of the people, one could have media belonging to religious, political, cultural and social groups.
What is very clear is that the non state Media establishments which operate commercially in democratic societies could be classified into three types. Some do give editorial leanings to conservative parties and others to progressive parties. Others take the middle road and take no sides. However, regardless of the leaning of a media establishment it is ethically bound to publish the truth in good faith in the public interest. Truth, Good faith and the Public interest constitute the motto of the free press in a democratic society.
The Media Commission Act which was repealed was the most draconian media legislation that could be conceived by the human mind. Let us just highlight one provision to help refresh the mind of the nation to the content which made the whole world to condemn it. Section 13 required media practitioners to register with the Commission but excluded media practitioners employed by the state. Paragraph (5) of this section states that “the commission shall issue a licence to a media practitioner or media organisation registered under this section.”
It added that “the registration of a media practitioner or media organisation shall be valid for one year and may be renewed from year to year.”
In short, all media houses and practitioners would have had to renew their licence to operate annually. One could understand why the Media commission was rejected by media houses because of its contravention of section 25 of the constitution which provides the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the Media.
PDOIS will encourage the Media practitioners to come up with a self regulatory body which would rely on persuasive influence and peer pressure to ensure adherence to the principle of publishing the truth in good faith in the public interest by all.
PDOIS understands the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Without freedom of expression there can be no information and without information there can be no knowledge and without knowledge there can be no awareness and without awareness human beings will grope in the dark from the cradle to the grave. Such human beings could never enjoy liberty, dignity or prosperity.
We hope the executive will understand why all just human beings have kept the memory of Deyda Hydara alive. This is the only way to deter others from committing such heinous crime. Look at Mexico today and reflect on what organised crime has given birth to. When Deyda was murdered and Ousman Sillah shot it became clear that Gambia was graduating from being a small society where people, irrespective of their differences attend each other’s ceremonies and put aside their antagonisms to express condolences during funerals, and was beginning to nurture people with hearts of stones who could hide in the dark to kill and maim their fellow citizens with impunity. It was necessary for the conscience of the nation to be awakened by keeping alive the question: Who Killed Deyda Hydara?
We in PDOIS called on the executive to understand the motive and keep alive the call to rid the country of organised crime so that all will live in unity, freedom and peace each day. What all just Gambians have called for is diligent investigation into the killing of Deyda and the disappearance of Chief Manneh. This is not too much to ask for. All have heeded the call of the executive for information. All should forward the information available to them.
This is the aspiration of PDOIS. This is what we promise to work for if we ever take over the helm or take part in a coalition government that aims to truly lead by consent, reason and justice instead of ruling by coercion and might.
Be ready to judge us by our words and actions and not by our intentions.