By Sang Mendy
Many a times when press freedom is mentioned, nine out ten in The Gambia think, this is a thing for journalists. But press freedom is or should be everyone’s business.
The theme for this year’s World Press Day; “Information as a Public Good”, says it all.
The media is often termed as the fourth pillar of democracy because of the unarguable role the press – reporters, editors and photographers –play in ensuring that the others arms of government are checked.
In their attempts to hold on to that task, many have risked their lives for truth to be told. Deyda Hydara (TRRC hearings revealed) is one of those who paid the price in The Gambia. Many others were tortured while a lot more spent years away from their families, friends and loved ones.
On a day like this, we celebrate those who risked their lives. We also remind ourselves of the task and the pledge to hold governors to account for their actions and inactions. We also use the day to discuss and remind ourselves of the journalistic ethics, principles we hold dear to ourselves like the teachings of Holy Books. On a day like this press organisations in countries where the plight of journalists has been overlooked also call on their governments to protect the safety of journalists in the face of attacks and to ensure press independence. The case in The Gambia.
Though we are celebrating the strides made in the global press freedom index, there is still room for improvement. It is true that colleagues in the newsroom no longer look over their shoulders nor fear telling truth to power or talk about pertinent issues. This though isn’t enough because the laws used by the then government to muzzle the press are still in our law books and can could be used at any moment. In the run up to the 2016 elections, the president and his campaign team told Gambians that the media laws in our law books are bad and would be repealed but they seem to have forgotten their campaign promises or simply negating them.
That said, I hope the government of The Gambia and funding agencies interested in The Gambia’s democratization process increase their budget on media and information literacy because it is only when citizens know the importance of the media that they can recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.
To the fallen heroes and heroines I will continue to celebrate but pray that you continue to rest in peace. To those still fighting for a freer press, it won’t be easy but don’t relent, keep engaging those concerned. To the young journalists especially those studying journalism, it is important you know that that you have chosen a profession that demands a lot from you for less pay. If you’re into this for fame or to make a fortune, quit or else you will be counted not as the gallant men and women of honour.
Happy World Press Freedom Day.
Sang Mendy is the Managing Director of the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication and a Chevening Fellow on Democracy, Good Governance and Economic Prosperity.