by Aminata Sanneh
In a bid to enhance a cordial relationship between media practitioners and members of the legal fraternity, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) will on Thursday and Friday, hold a consultative meeting at local hotel in Kololi .
The training is earmarked for 50 legal practitioners (25 from the Judiciary and 25 from The Bar).
According to Saikou Jammeh, Secretary General of the GPU, the meeting is geared towards promoting knowledge and expertise in the legal field on freedom of expression issues, while seeking to improve the working relationship between the media and the judiciary.
“It is meant to strengthen the knowledge and expertise of professional lawyers and on issues of media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of information,” he stated.
Jammeh said the meeting will also introduce the lawyers to the draft Freedom of Information Bill. He added that this will strengthen the improved relations between legal practitioners and journalists with respect to handing of freedom of expression cases and coverage of the courts by putting in place the ‘Press- Bar’ guidelines.
The forum is directed at the Gambia Bar Association including representatives from the Ministry of Justice. And the Judiciary, including key courtroom staff concerned with interactions with the public and handling of the Gambian media has never enjoyed acceptable international standards of constitutional and legal guarantees on freedom of speeh/expession and the press. The country remains the only English speaking nation in West Africa that, from a legal point of view, does not distinctly recognise freedom of information as a human right. The full exercise and enjoyment of freedom of expression and freedom of information have been restricted with laws and practices such that the country’s strive towards accountable and transparent governance based on the rule of law, participatory democracy, human rights and justice is constantly undermined.
As the country’s human rights situation deteriorated sharply under the former regime, freedom of expression became the most misrepresented, politicised and suppressed. The courts – the last bastion of democracy and constitutional order – became a battlefield where those seeking to supplant freedom with fear triumphed over those seeking guarantees for their civic and political liberties. With space for exercise and enjoyment of the right restricted and constricted, a wide range of human rights violations and massive pillage of public funds occurred with impunity.
The forum is part of United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) grant of US$220,000 for the project entitled ‘Enhancing Media-Government Relations to Improve the Legal Environment for Freedom of Expression’ in The Gambia.
The GPU has worked with a range of national and international actors – state and non-state actors towards promoting an enabling environment for the exercise and enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression as a catalyst strengthening democracy and sustainable development.