Ndey Sowe

The Gambia Press Union (GPU) on Friday, 23rd August 2019 launched its US$42,000 (equivalent to about D2.1 million) grant towards promoting access to access to information in the Gambia. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) one-year funded project is titled “Building a National Consensus on Access to Information and Freedom of Expression”.

The funder’s aim is said to be: “Supporting Freedom around the World”. The fund is meant for the implementation of one- year.

The objective of the project is to make the citizenry understand what is in for them in an access to information regime, and influence the drafting of the new constitution so that it can have progressive clauses on freedom of expression and media freedom.

According to officials, the theme of the launching is the “Constitution We Want”, and it is expected to carry everyone in the campaign for a legal regime that guarantees free expression and media freedom. The commencement of the implementation of the project activities will include a grassroots and sectorial consultations.

Officials said, the project includes a training of trainers for journalist and civil society activists on access to information and freedom of expression advocacy, a nationwide caravan on freedom of information bill to loop in the grassroots and community- based actors in the FOI discourse, a national forum to review and validate the draft bill before submission to the National Assembly.

There will also be a dialogue with relevant state authorities to bring the government to the table for a dialogue with a view to promoting national consensus on issues of media freedom and freedom of expression.

Sheriff Bojang, President of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) said “Access to information and freedom of expression is not just restricted to journalists”, adding that it has to do with the market women, taxi drivers, our parents as well.

He said as citizens, “there is nothing more important than us having access to information and media freedom because this has to do with our survival and everything we do on daily basis”, which he further said is part and parcel of our everyday activities.

He applauded the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for listening to the concerns of the GPU and its partners for investing in the project

Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Activist said access to information is fundamental for a country to ensure good governance and democracy, this he said has been recognized by the current government.

“We call on all Gambian citizens to join hands with the GPU and FOI Coalition to seriously advocate for the creation of the law before the end of 2019”, he said, adding that it is three years since this government is in power but yet the law is not enacted.

Claude Kondor, Political Adviser to the Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS to the Gambia said the launch is very timely as the country is undertaking various reforms including the constitutional review process.

He express hope that the project will push forward freedom of expression, freedom of information and press freedom, which he said is a collective responsibility of all relevant stakeholders including the government of the Gambia, development partners, Gambia Press Union among others.

“I hope that the draft Freedom of Information Bill 2019 which has been presented to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure would be given the attention it deserves,” he stressed.

Richard Carl Paschal, Ambassador of the Embassy of the United States said a responsible press is vital to democracy,

“A responsible free press is needed to champion truth and fight false narratives, a journalist, a good responsible journalist doesn’t just tell the story, they tell why the story matters”, he noted.

Mr Saikou Jammeh, the Secretary General of the GPU gave an outline of the project and Dr Henry Carrol launched the project on behalf of the Minister of Justice.

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