Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gambia Press Union boycotts a forum meant to discuss way forward for the media

Members say nothing warrants such a decision  

The leadership of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) has decided to boycott stakeholders’ forum in which it’s invited as a “main stakeholder” to discuss the preliminary report that gives an overview of the findings on the situation of the journalists and media in The Gambia.  

Emil Touray
The meeting on 1st November at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Bakau was part of the “Journalists and Media” component of the European Union Delegation and Gambian Government joint Governance Programme. 
The meeting was for the stakeholders to discuss the preliminary report, prepared by a team of consultants from Article 19 during a mission conducted in The Gambia in October 2012, and commissioned by the European Union Delegation in The Gambia.

Thought the report indicated the achievements, strengths and the shortcomings of the GPU, the leadership of the Union said the report is biased.   

The president Emil Touray, secretary general Gibairu Janneh, and executive director Ahmed Alota are the ones invited to represent the GPU at the forum but none of them showed up neither do they delegate somebody else.

In a telephone conversation with the president, Emil Touray, to find out why the GPU is not represented at such a forum to discuss the way forward for the media, he said: “We just decided to boycott because we are not happy with the report.”

“We are dissatisfied with the content of the report and we thought the appropriate thing is to boycott forum as a way of expressing our disaffection,” he added. 
However, the forum went as planned, the organizers said.

Apart from the boycott, the GPU president said they are going to write a protest letter against the report. 
Demba Kandeh, deputy editor-in-chief of Today Newspaper and a member of the GPU, said the action of the Union’s leadership is “unjustifiable”. 

“The GPU should have by all means endeavour to be at the forum even if it is a matter of live and death.  Under no circumstance can the GPU justify their absence at the forum,” Mr Kandeh noted.

In fact it is a shame that the GPU could not even honour an invitation to a forum to discuss media issues no matter how hard the challenges might be, Kandeh said. 

For the president of the Young Journalists Association of the Gambia (YJAG), Mr Modou S Joof, boycotting of such event by the Union is a non-starter.

He said the Union cannot justify this action.  He noted that the report is just a preliminary report and the forum was meant to discuss and get comments from the different stakeholders to be included in the final report.

“This could have a chilling effect on efforts to pave the way forward for Gambia’s embattled media. The GPU is a major stakeholder and should have taken this fact into consideration,” he said. “So the forum should have given the GPU leadership the chance to argue their case and make their stance known for appropriate adjustments, where necessary.”

Below Gambia News Online reproduce, verbatim, part of the preliminary report that talks about the GPU.

The Gambia Press Union

So far the GPU seems to be the most recognized body representing the interest of the journalists and media in The Gambia. According to chapter 2 of its Constitution, the GPU’s main objectives are:

To promote and safeguard the corporate objectives, mission and vision of The Gambia Press Union;

To promote and safeguard the rights, interests and welfare of members;

To promote and defend the right of freedom of expression which shall include freedom of the media and professional independence in journalism;

To promote and protect the right to freedom of information;

To encourage the media in The Gambia to make available to the people diversity of views and opinions;

To continuously improve the professional standards of the media and media practitioners as well as the ethics of the profession in The Gambia through facilitating training among others;

To strive for all state owned media to accord fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions as required by Section 208 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia;

To facilitate communication among members in order to generate better understanding in the media community;

To promote cooperation with affiliate bodies and other media organisations and journalists associations around the world;

To engage in social activities to raise the interest and enthusiasm of members in their work; and provide social, financial, legal and moral support to members;

The GPU is surely to be credited with some major achievements, the first of which being its ability to “survive” in a particularly hostile environment and to bring together a good number of media professionals under one roof.

The GPU has also managed to appear as the only interlocutor and partner of many international organisations and initiatives, supporting the Gambian media.

Among its achievement is also the organisation of a great number of training workshops, which it offers to its members. These training activities could soon be formalised and boosted, thanks to a substantial financial support by the Gambia Media Support (Games), a Danish international Non Governmental Organisation.

Despite these remarkable achievements, the mere observation of the state of the media in the Gambia (poor or little editorial content, no access to government information, private radio stations not broadcasting local news, poor application of professional and ethical codes, poorly paid journalists, harsh working conditions for reporters, etc.) put against the afore mentioned generous “objectives” clearly show that there’s a lot to be done, and that other actors need to be involved, to produce the profound changes needed in the Gambian media sector.

Another weakness of the organisation lies in its inability to properly engage government and bring it to the negotiation table or to hold managers of media houses and publishers accountable when it comes to the working conditions of the journalists.

Furthermore the GPU is currently facing criticism from a wide section of the media fraternity on two critical issues it needs to address to keep its historical legitimacy and long term existence: i) it is accused by some media houses of getting involved in “too many” areas which are not in the traditional role of a trade union while neglecting part of its initial mandate and ii) the GPU is using money granted by partners to support the Gambian media professionals to train “new recruits” fresh from schools who cannot be considered as “members of the Union” or of the media corps, to benefit from its funds.


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