Increased press freedom a possibility

Trevor Grundy

Reform of the media in The Gambia is urgently needed, but a landmark Commonwealth forum has opened up a debate on the issue and prompted the Gambian government to commit to developing the sector. 

The Gambia, Africa’s smallest country and an intriguing microcosm of all the hopes and problems that impact on the continent, is now open to a full debate on the laws that affect the freedom of the press. A five-day media forum and capacity-building event, convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat in collaboration with the Management Development Institute and the Gambian government, was held in Banjul from 1 to 5 August. It was attended by a host of leading African academics, journalists and politicians, including Gambian government ministers. 

Speaking at the forum, Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Momodou Tangara expressed his government’s commitment to “enhance and develop the media” and its recognition of the media’s “invaluable role in socio-economic development.” He drew up recommendations that called for the reform of the legal environment, increased capacity-building and greater networking among journalism schools in the region and the Commonwealth. Tangara and the Minister for Information Infrastructure, Alhagie Cham, urged the local media to show greater responsibility, objectivity and professionalism.

The forum was followed by a three-day training programme organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, with members of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) making up the team of trainers. Agreement was reached, in principle, with journalists from Cameroon, Sierra Leone and The Gambia on opening branches of the CJA in these three West African countries. 

A delegation led by Amitav Banerji, Director of Political Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, briefed the local media on the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Western Australia, at the end of October. 

The forum coincided with mounting local anger that the media is tightly controlled by government ministers and that journalists are threatened, imprisoned and sometimes tortured. Gambian reporter Ebrima Manneh has been missing since 7 July 2006, and the country’s best-known journalist and publisher Deyda Hydara was murdered in a drive-by shooting on the night of 16 December 2004.

About the author:

Trevor Grundy is a British journalist who participated as a CJA trainer in the Gambia from 1-6 August 2011


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