Part 1

Today is World Press Freedom Day.

I had initially argued that from a peculiar perspective the idea of press freedom is a grand deception but have since revised my argument in a new perspective that press freedom does exists after all, but governments all over the world only grant to journalists certain rights enshrined in the constitution and in other international instruments of rights only to steal it back with various obnoxious laws, and retaining archaic and colonial laws.

The Gambia is no exception. Those archaic repressive laws are very inimical and repressive to press freedom, still applicable in the statute books (See Part 2).

The job of a watchmaker is not to tell time, but to create an instrument with which you can tell what time it is. However, a watchmaker who doesn’t know what time it is cannot succeed in his job without misleading others.

One of the fundamental jobs of a true journalist is to provide information through which, the public can tell the kind of times they live in. However, if reporters and journalists are oblivious to the state of their nation, they are bound to misinform and mislead the people.

Every year on May 3, media practitioners and journalists celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; they show the cause why their existence in accordance with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be defended. They pay tribute to journalists who have lost lives in the line of duty, and they remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the people’s rights to freedom of expression.

But if there are any journalists in the Gambia this year who are celebrating World Press Freedom Day with a view to advancing any of the above causes, then they are not any different from those who are suppressing freedom of expression.

Today, they will march like they always do; they will listen to rhetoric from their media leaders demanding the same old Access to Information Bill, Freedom of Information  Act ,the Right to Information laws and they will hear more threats from government officials – sugar-coated in their commitment to protecting ETHICAL media houses.

Like mourners at the funeral of a relative who succumbed to AIDS, they will regret the death of press freedom in the Gambia without mentioning or condemning the killer.

But they know the truth and the truth must be said. If there is any immunity left for journalists to report facts, then there is no better day to do so than May 3, 2019 when they join the government under President Adama Barrow as they celebrate their achievement in raping independent journalism.

Like a time conscious watchmaker, they are alive to the fact that this Adama Barrow government has captured private media in one way or another and is “molesting it without Vaseline” – as Julius Malema puts it.

From May 3, 2016 to date, journalists have made the biggest news headlines. This has been two years in which politicians reported the news they wanted the public to hear while journalists were on the run. Two years when the civil society assumed a front row sit in witnessing injustice and chose in doing nothing about it.

The damage caused to the media landscape has left an indelible mark on the country’s democracy and the economy thereof. What is worse is that no one in government is listening. And while they are still on speaking the truth, they might as well say that the Minister of Information is failing in repealing all the archaic draconian press laws.

Minister Ebrima Sillah boasts that it is only this government that has managed to issue several radio stations licenses across the country and multiple television broadcasting licenses; but is it a secret that this government managed to shut down the Daily Observer newspaper, a powerhouse of Gambian journalism and a critical private media organizations in less than one year in office on alleged tax evasion?

Today as they commemorate World Press Freedom Day in the Gambia, they must realize that they are saying goodbye to press freedom. Those of them in the private media will be conceding defeat to a deaf regime unless they resist the paymaster and stick to ethical, credible journalism.

Yes, there is still hope, but they will never regain their journalistic liberty until they end the hatred between journalist and journalist, the scheming by one media house against another.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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