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Reform of the media dominates landmark Commonwealth forum in Gambia

Submitted by on August 21, 2011 – 11:53 amNo Comment

Gambia's Information and Communications Infrastructure Minister, Alhagie Cham - Photo by Trevor Grundy

Gambia's Information and Communications Infrastructure Minister, Alhagie Cham - Photo by Trevor Grundy

By Trevor Grundy

THE GAMBIA, Africa’s smallest country and an intriguing microcosm of all the hopes and problems that impact on the world’s largest but hungriest continent, is now open to a full debate on laws that affect the freedom of the press.

Speaking at 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 in Banjul from 1-5 August (2011), Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Momodou Tangara told delegates:

”The hosting of this Forum and Workshop in The Gambia is timely and commendable as they no doubt unleash the potential of media practitioners and enable them to use the skills and knowledge gained meaningfully.

“Efforts to set up the School of Communication at the University of The Gambia is a step in the right direction.

“This way our practicing journalists, who are largely high school leavers, would have the opportunity to learn about the media and practice the profession in the best and most mature way.

“Please allow me to express our commitment as a government to enhance and develop the media and our recognition of its invaluable role in the socio-economic development of nations.”

Dr Tangara spoke after the Forum drew a series of recommendations that called for the reform of the legal environment, capacity building and greater networking among journalism schools in the region and other parts of the Commonwealth.

It was attended by a host of leading African academics, journalists and politicians including the Gambian Minister for Information Infrastructure, Alhagie Cham.

The two-day Forum was followed by a three-day Training Programme organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, with members of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) making up the team of trainers.

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

A delegation led by Mr Banerji met the Gambian Vice-President, Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, with whom he discussed CHOGM as well as Commonwealth values and principles.

Ministers Tangara and Cham urged the local media to show greater responsibility, objectivity and professionalism in order to be ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and a ‘guarantor of good governance.’

During the five day Forum and capacity building event – which coincided with the start of Ramadan – the Chapter President of the CJA, Rita Payne, reached agreement in principle with journalists from Cameroon, Sierra Leone and The Gambia on opening branches in the three West African countries.

Commenting on the role of the media, not only in the Gambia but also throughout the Commonwealth, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, Special Adviser and Head of the Africa Section in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said:

”The media has three key roles in contributing to democratization and good governance, namely as watchdog over the powerful, promoting accountability, transparency and public scrutiny; as a civic forum for political debate, facilitating informal electoral choices and actions; and as an agenda-setter for policy makers, strengthening government responsiveness to social problems and to exclusion.”

The Forum and Training Session coincided with mounting anger in The Gambia and other parts of the world that the media is tightly controlled by government ministers and that journalists are threatened, imprisoned and sometimes tortured in that West African state (population 1.7 million).

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.

”His death plunged the country into a mood of despondency and the media community into a profound shock which it has yet to fully recover,” say Aloa Ahmed Alota and Demba Ali Jawo, co-authors of the best – selling book about the life and times of Deyda Hydara, a book called “A Living Mirror”(The Point Press, 2007) which is presently on sale throughout The Gambia.

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

Are you a CJA member? Would you like to submit an article? Please email will_henley [at] xsmail.com.

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