A Positive Move, But... The Gambia Press Union, USA branch, welcomes the recent meeting between President Yahya Jammeh and the Gambian press. Such an encounter, be it in the form of a press conference or a simple media dialogue, should be regular between Government and the Fourth Estate. That is as it should be. It is unfortunate that for a very long time, the Gambian press was denied, time after time, access to the offices of the President. The relationship between the Gambian Government and the independent press has been frosty, at best.
While we remain unsure of the potential for a complete thaw in relations between President Jammeh and the Gambian press, we are still heartened by the opportunity accorded to our colleagues to engage the President, right there in the corridors of power. Our seniors in the Gambian media fraternity, such as Messrs. Swaebou Conateh and Sam Sarr, asked the right questions, and set the right tone, at the meeting. They leveled up with the President on vexing media issues, particularly the disappearance of reporter Chief Ebrima Manneh and the gruesome murder of Editor Deyda Hydara.
The opportunity, a rarity for that matter, for the media chiefs to speak directly to the President, is too significant to gloss over. It is hard for us to offer Jammeh any plaudits for allowing the Standard newspaper back in the streets because the government's short-lived ban on the paper was wrong in the first place.
The decision lacked in both moral clarity and legal justification. Once more, the unmitigated might of the Jammeh Government was brought to bare on a fledgling member of one of the most assaulted institutions of Gambian society. Nonetheless, we are feeling good about the return of the Standard. The more newspapers, the better it is for industrial competition, and by extension, for the Gambian press. Certainly, we are under no illusion that an increase in the tally of newspapers, just by itself alone, will be enough to bring about good journalism, a free flow of information in The Gambia.
The basis of good journalism hinges; in large measure, on those at the seat of power, believing in and making allowance for, the sacredness of the press, its functional value to society's well-being. We still are far from certain that Jammeh do appreciate the indispensable role of the press in Gambian society. He says he does. But actions have not borne him out. His presidency runs the entire gamut of press intimidation, from the deportation of reporters to the burning of presses, from the death and disappearance of journalists to the banning of newspapers.
At the State House meeting, the President deployed some language we read with trepidation. The language of veiled threats was out of sync with the spirit of the meeting. Such saber-rattling has no place in a meeting between a national leader and a group of journalists. It didn't look like a healthy exchange, a genuine attempt to cast off the old and usher in the new, on the part of the Gambian president.
It looked like Jammeh was swinging at perceived enemies, making saboteurs and fifth columnists of those in the audience and outside. It needs reminding, however: Gambian journalists are peaceful, law-abiding individuals, who want to be allowed the freedom to report the news and engage their fellow Gambians in a dialogue about their own affairs --- all in the spirit of national development. We cannot be gleeful, through and through, about the recent State House meeting because it does not provide us with any confidence in President Jammeh's willingness to turn a new page with the media. To gain our trust, Jammeh must do the following: -
Account for Chief Ebrima Manneh.
Jammeh's recent statements on Manneh leave us with more questions than answers. He needs to do more than just talking away the journalist's disappearance.
- Aggressively pursue Deyda Hydara's killers and deploy all available law enforcement resources towards resolving his mysterious murder. Justice for his family is long overdue.
- Investigate the April 10 & 11, 2011 student Massacres and fully compensate the families of slained Journalist Omar Barrow and his fellow victims.
- Repeal all draconian media laws in the books and make it easy for prospective publishers to enter the journalism market.
- Make himself available for regular press conferences with the private press. Jammeh recently said government officials should be open to journalists. He should lead by example.
Signed on behalf of GPU-USA Cherno Baba Jallow, Public Relations Officer Demba Baldeh, Secretary General