Gambian civil society takes stand on free press, free speech

No one has the right to take away free expression from anyone’

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By Sanna Camara

A Gambian civil society activist has said that freedom of expression is an inherent human right that no one can confer on anyone, or no one has the right to take away from anyone.

According to Madi Jobarteh, of all the rights that human beings enjoy, probably the right that is so critical to the enjoyment of all other rights is free speech. What is the meaning of your life if you cannot say a word? He asked.

Making an opening statement at the Policy Dialogue forum orgnised by TANGO and GPU in commemoration of World Press freedom day over the weekend, Mr. Jobarteh said as human beings, “we have rights, rights that we are born with, rights given to us by no one other than the almighty. Rights that define our nature, our character, our whole being… and as members of society, we have created other rights – legal rights for the purpose of strengthening and enhancing those rights that we are born with as human beings.”

Holding leaders accountable

“What is the purpose of your citizenship, how do you hold your leaders accountable, how can you combat corruption, how can you share information, gain knowledge, if you cannot say a word?” he went on asking.

He agreed that right to life is a sacrosanct right; right to association, right to movement, right to vote, right to participate in the affairs of your society are all fundamental rights that human beings enjoy. “But to give meaning, context, to enhance these rights, free speech is central. And so, that makes this day quite significant… as human beings, as society, for advancement,” he argued.

The executive director of TAGO, Ousman Yarboe said, he honestly thinks that press freedom day is a day that globally all should honour.

Journalists have a share in the national development

“We should honour in the sense that journalists have a share in the national development of any nation. Media houses have a share in the development of national programmes. For that reason, in celebrating this day, we need to reflect on their performances and challenges over the years,” he told the gathering of media practitioners.

Mr. Yarboe went on to say that journalists have a responsibility. “And their responsibility mainly is to provide information to the masses – and I underline, the right information at the right time. Over the period, we have seen in media houses – particularly the newspapers – that by giving out that information, some accidentally, some by virtue of their work has lost their lives…,” he said.

Reflect on all aspects of media work

“These are challenges that we as a nation, we as a member of the world, should look into. If we are serious about our development and media houses are part of that development, then we need to consider this aspect,” he added.

He reiterated the importance of the press freedom day, further pointing out that he honestly think that “we should reflect on all aspects of media work. In particular, in our country, the small Gambia, media has a responsibility that you must provide the right kind of information that the citizens need. Since your job is challenging, you need to provide us the citizenry the right kind of information that is needed to move forward.”

Media and civil society re in the struggle together

Other civil society leaders like Lamin Nyangado of Action Aid The Gambia, hammered home the point that the civil society are in this struggle for freedom of expression and speech together. He spoke on the role of the media in policy making and development processes, focusing on the linkages, roles, and tools available for the media in The Gambia.  

 

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