Monday, October 10, 2011

Gambian journalists train to take constitutional right of freedom of expression

Gambian journalists are now in a better position to take their constitutional right of freedom of expression after completing a weeklong intensive training on international standard on freedom of expression.

Over the years, the Gambian media is accused of self-censorship which is due to the various draconian laws like criminal defamation (libel and slander) in the country suppressing and oppressing the freedom and independence of the press which is guaranteed by the constitution.  The skills of the journalists are now enhanced to freely express themselves without falling foul of the repressive media laws in the country thereby minimizing the self-censorship in the media to its barest minimum level, enhance professionalism as well as to play it constitutional mandate of keeping the government accountable to the people of the Gambia.
Participants at the training

The media practitioners recently completed an intensive and hands-on training dubbed ‘Training on International Standard on Freedom of Expression for Journalists’ organized by Article 19 Senegal in partnership with the Gambia Press Union (GPU) with the financial support of the European Commission under the 9th European Development Fund for Non-State Actors Strengthening Programme in The Gambia.

The 20 journalists who attended the training that runs from 3rd to 7th October this year at the GPU Secretariat in Bakau, were trained to deepen their understanding of freedom of expression standards and their abilities enhanced to contribute to democratic and economic governance in the country. 


“The training was a very hectic exercise” said the president of GPU, Emil Touray, shortly after each participant was awarded a ‘certificate of participation’ at the end of the training.  He told the participants that “all of you did extremely well during the training”.  This was manifested by the level of participation and the lively discussions that characterised the training.

GPU president urge the participants to share the knowledge gained during the training with their colleagues who are not fortunate to attend.

Barbora Bukovska, senior director for law, Article 19 London, thanked the participants for their enthusiastic participation in the training.  She urged them to apply the knowledge in their work.

“The training is worthwhile and I believe you learnt a lot,” said Sam Sarr, managing editor of Foroyaa newspaper.  “But what is important about learning is it application.  You should apply the knowledge you gained from training.”

A representative from the Ministry of Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Ebrima Njie told the journalists that it is their turn to utilise the knowledge gained from the training for the good of the society.  “You should effective applied the knowledge gained,” he emphasized.

The training was characterised by case studies, and group works, and at the end, the fifth day, participants were given a short exam to gauge their understanding of knowledge gained during the training as well as to determine those who will be selected to proceed on the next phase of the training which will be safety and security of journalists. 

Through performance in the exam, twelve (12) of the twenty (20) participants were selected for the next training to held before the end of this year.  The best three in the exam, Modou Kandeh, Isatou Bittaye and Modou S Joof, were each presented with an award in recognition of their hard work during the training as evident in the result of the exam.  Lamin Jahateh, publisher of Gambia News Online, took fifth in the examination.

However, one of the eight participants who could not made it through to the next training complaint that the selection was not fair.  The complainant argued: “I performed well during the lessons and class discussions, how can I not made it in the exam.  Some of my colleagues were in fact discouraged before the exam, I gave them the courage that they should not give up because they will make it; most of them made it and I don’t, how comes.”

However, it was clear that even before the exam that lasted for an hour; those who are going to be selected will be based on their performance in the exam which will show whether they use to read the materials given to them.  And it was also stated in the programme agenda, given at the commencement of the training, that there will be a “short exam” at the end of the training to determine those who will continue to the next training.

“Those who did not performed well in the exam at the end of the training will not continue to the next training,” the GPU president said at the beginning of the training.

Topics treated during the training include: freedom of expression under international law; freedom of expression under African regional standards; GPU self regulation; protection of journalistic sources; legal protection in cases of violence against journalists; defamation and international standards of freedom of expression; right to information under international law, and freedom of expression and national security.

The lecturers include: Fatou Jagne-Senghore, Artile 19 Senegal; Bruno Menzan, programme assistant, Article 19 Senegal; Barbora Bukovska, senior director for law, Article 19 London; and Gabrielle Guillemin, legal officer, Article 19 London.

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