Today is the 30th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day declared by the UN to promote freedom of the media and freedom of expression.
For three years in a row the smart QTV anchor Jainaba Sonko once again hosted a forum with young people at the American Corner to celebrate the day. My humble self together with my senior advocate and mentor DA Jawo, the GPU president Muhammed Bah and his female counterpart Annette Camara as well as Imran Darboe from Fantanka were guest speakers.
We did not spare any effort to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and a free media in society. We implored on the kids to take advantage of the political, economic and technological opportunities available to develop themselves, and shape their future. We called on them to stand against fake news, hate speech and disinformation among other harmful misuses of the media. It was indeed a lively event in which everyone was inspired and empowered.
It is heartening indeed that the Gambia is registering strides in freedom of the media index since 2017. We recognized this giant steps and the need to defend the civic space to remain open and safe for citizens and the media to continue to express themselves.
However we cannot fail to recognize that even as citizens show determination to defend democracy and an open society of which a free press is an indispensable tool, the Gambia Government continues to try both overt and covert means to threaten freedom of expression and free media.
Today, on this very day of free press, without shame or fear PURA had the audacity to issue a meaningless politically motivated threat against King FM. Without relying on any legal provision nor highlighting any misconduct by the radio station, PURA decided to issue the station with a letter that can only be described as a direct attempt to silence the journalists and the airwaves of King FM. This is very concerning indeed.
Indeed PURA has taken this draconian and threatening stance because they have been empowered by Pres. Adama Barrow who has once again used his Koriteh speech few weeks ago to attack citizens and the media for expressing themselves and holding him accountable.
Unable to cover up his inefficiency and corruption, while incapable of silencing the voices of transparency and accountability, Barrow has rather decided to use misleading and threatening tactics by falsely accusing citizens and radio stations of fomenting division, threatening peace and castigating innocent citizens.
The fact is that it is Pres. Barrow and his advisors, ministers and party surrogates who are indeed the leading purveyors of disinformation, insults, division and indecency in our sociopolitical landscape. Coupled with their corruption and inefficiency, Barrow now wants to attack citizens and the media just to kill transparency and accountability hence plunge this country into Dictatorship once again.
Therefore on this auspicious day for free press, let us tell Barrow to be honest, open and humble than to seek to violate fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and the media. Let us tell PURA to not allow itself to be turned into a weapon for the President to kill democracy in the Gambia.
Citizens and the media have a right to criticize the President and his Government rightly or wrongly, biased or unbiased, favorably or unfavorably. Media houses have a right to align with any political party or ideology. That’s part of freedom of the media and democracy.
There are a number of citizens and media outlets that provide praise singing for the President. Some of those praises are false, divisive, intolerant and nasty. But he never complains about them. Therefore if other citizens and the media also criticize him for whatever reason, honesty demands that he takes the heat or resign. Public office is not his personal fish and chips. Anyone who holds public office must be severely criticized, whether you like it or not.
Therefore let Barrow face the critics to respond to the issues they raise or just shut up. But it’s cowardly, dishonest and unlawful to threaten citizens and the media and then use public institutions like PURA to execute that dirty job. Shame!!!
Long life the media in the Gambia. Defend freedom of expression. Raise your voices for transparency and accountability. Criticize the President for anything and everything you feel like.
For The Gambia Our Homeland