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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Various Speeches of Swaebou Conateh and Others

What Future for the Daily News
Statement by Swaebou Conateh on the occasion of the second anniversary of the newspaper on 6 April, 2011

Exactly two years ago today, the first edition of a newspaper called the Daily News,  hit the streets of KMC and Banjul Municipality. The venture was a brave, bold move on the part of our colleague, Madi Ceesay of Media Agenda and hitherto also of The Gambia Press Union, the Independent newspaper and the Gambia News and Report.

At the time many people doubted if the paper could make it in an increasingly crowded media field. Already in circulation were the Daily Observer, the Point  and Foroyaa Newspapers, among others. Even more so is the fact that the reading public, with limited incomes and even more limited appetite for reading or buying newspapers—thanks to their preference for  celluloid films and the audio=visual news presentations.

I often  remind people that for most Gambians, buying even one copy of a newspaper is a choice between having something to read or having three cups of rice for the household.  Moreover, the venture will also depend on readers who are  already  used to the established papers.

However, even though audacious  at the time. Mr Ceesay ventured into the field of newspaper publishing and brought out the first edition of the Daily News with its boldly declared motto of factual, reliable, authoritative .

The Rubicon having thus been crossed, there had been little time to look back. We have seen how the ‘daily’s’ frequency has been increasedd from one to several times a week in pursuit  of the managements target, to make it he what its name proclaims, daily.

Today we can afford to congratulate Mr,.Ceesay for what he has been able to achieve, surviving  the birth pangs is itself an achievement. And I congratulate you and your staff, Mr. Ceesay.

But besides   continous non stop publication to date is  the fact that the Daily News, by living up to its creed  of factual, reliable, authoritative reports, reports has now found its niche  in the Gambian publishing scene.

In its own way, by sheer drive and imagination, the paper has defined its own character side by side with other papers of the Gambia . It has indeed shown us that by adhering to true and trusted forms of journalism, the reading public no matter how well educated it may be, would still reach out to have value for money when it comes to buying a newspaper.

What values, one may ask.  We believe the values readers find in the Daily News lie in its uncompromising  editorial stance on fundamental issues of human rights, citizenship and good governance, its investigative reports, for example the Brikama Area Council, and its success at combining  entertainment with factual reports.

 I find the paper’s foreign news pages  up to date and informative in a fast changing and competitive news environment.

Another important aspect of progress is in the field of advertising.  We  all know the importance of advertising to newspapers. From virtually nothing at all, the paper has increased its adventising space and linage. This is a good sign as advertisers are the best indication of a papers acceptance by members of the community.

Advertising is also a guarantor of  more success.  There can indeed be no future for a paper that cannot attract advertisements.

With this inspiring background, it is possible to see a bright future  for the Daily News.  I have always said that  The Gambia is still very much a virgin territory as far a  media investments are concerned.

Now, as the paper grows in reputation and circulation,  we can be rest assured that it will also grow in size in terms of the number of pages. As advertising  revenue increases, so also will the number   and quality of staff.

 My advice to the management is to continue to aim for high quality staff in terms of educational qualifications, English usage and various other talents  and qualifications  which can provide a quality product at the end of the day.

This of course will bring to the paper’s readers richer dividends in terms of a  well balanced mixture of news and views, with journalists in sciences. Technology, IT, graphics arts as well as other fields.

As the saying goes the sky is the limit on the way ahead

We publish below the views expressed by media heads when they met President Jammeh at State House on Wednesday, 16 March 2011. In the next edition, we will publish the reaction of President Jammeh and others who spoke on behalf of the government.
By Kebba Camara
Swaebou Conateh, News and Report Magazine 
I am the oldest practising journalist and editor in this country. I have practiced journalism in this country and outside the country for over 50 yrs years now and have been acquainted to the practice and the nature of the journalism profession as a result of this. During this period I have also been privileged to have made it possible for so many young men and women to not only join the profession but to rise to the top through training. The idea about this meeting is to bring about wider understanding between the government and the media in this country. It is not too late to adjust the position so that The Gambia can among its many achievements under your government also boast of having one the freest press in Africa if not in the world.
I will not kindle the fires of old wounds like the detentions, the prosecutions which have taken place and even the mysterious killings and disappearances of journalists. I also do not think we will do justice to our profession and our country by plugging this unique and very rear opportunity into a mere cosmetic public relations exercise. I therefore propose to take the bull by the horns to ask for certain programmes of the government to be carried out in order to make satisfactory and systematic progress on what is now a vexed question. Let it be noted that many of these proposals have already become the norm in many African countries.
In terms of legislation I would like to include decriminalising speech. It’s note worthy that only journalists and politicians have been accorded special rights in our constitution as many provisions on freedom of expression and of the press show. We should therefore say to let the thousand flowers grow. We are grateful for the introduction of various radio stations and we salute your government for such an achievement. I would also like to recommend the following in the area free speech. We should begin by decriminalising speech; otherwise one is in contradiction to universal principles as the free flow of information which is necessary to human understanding, cooperation and development.
Free flow of information falls in the same category. Our laws on sedition and seditious publication, libel laws and false publication laws are either archaic or out of step with the information age and should be reviewed. We should also have a Freedom of Information Act. By this it will be possible to provide correct means of gaining access to government. Under our constitution the public has the right to know what’s happening in government.  
And finally I would like to recommend that government should provide a platform for regular press briefings, especially at the president’s office, the foreign office and the interior ministry. This will afford both government and press a clearing house for information. Government should have an open door approach in its dealing with the press as a matter of policy and practice, officials should be allowed to meet the members of the press, give interviews and answer any questions to make it possible for information to flow easily between the government and the wider public.  I know you have stressed that your government has not asked any public servant not to talk to press, but I think there is misunderstanding within the civil servants themselves. It will help if the matter can be addressed by having a formal circular to be distributed to public officials in order to release them from fears they have. I can inform you that some of them do not even like to come close to private newspaper  practitioners because they believe that if they are seen with these people, then their jobs will be at risk. That’s among our constraints and I think your government can take a stand clearly by issuing a circular to say that their doors should be open to the media. Mr President public officials have fear.
I’m finally telling you that your government used to call press conferences but all this has stopped and we don’t know why. It will help your government if such initiative is introduced again, all journalists from all media houses should be invited to cover them. We know you are capable of doing that Mr. President. I thank you all and hope that the recommendations I made will be given due consideration.

Pap Saine, The Point Newspaper
Your Excellency, The President of the Republic, Sheikh Professor, Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh, The Vice President, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, Cabinet Ministers, Secretary to Cabinet, My colleagues, all other protocols respectfi1ly observed,
First of all, I would like to thank you, Your Excellency, for inviting us to know what exactly our concerns are. This, in my view, is long overdue as we have over the years called for better a relationship between government and the media especially the independent press. We know this has not been [the case] for more than a decade despite repeated requests from the press.
Your Excellency, the latest such attempt was the New Year Messages by media chiefs published in our newspaper, The Point, in which they expressed, among others, the need to bring good links with the state house and the independent press.
Your Excellency, it is paramount that the independent press has assess to government news so that we can effectively contribute out quota to the dissemination of information about what the government is doing and saying for the benefit of the general public and our readers at home and abroad. We want to make our position very clear that we are not against the state as many perceive us in certain quarters. The journalist does not see himself or herself in that role. We are neither backers nor opposition. Our job requires us to report on both the pleasant and the sordid aspects of society.
We as journalists have duty which we want to fulfil, since we have a constitutional mandate to do so. All we ask is that government facilitates this by giving us assess to public information as and when required. The journalist doesn’t create news, he or she forwards it as they see it. To give us such assess, will enable us to fulfil our duty as stipulated by the constitution of this country. We give credit where credit is due. Government at all levels should take criticism in good faith.
As far as we concerned, at The Point Newspaper we would continue uphold the principles laid down since the establishment of the paper. We want to ensure that every Gambian and all our readers that we will continue to be alert so as not to depart from the path we embarked on since the establishment of the paper some 20 years ago.
In conclusion your Excellency, I would like to highlight some pressing issues facing the media that we want you to help in addressing Your Excellency. We live in a society that has people with divergent views and dissenting opinions and quite naturally the media is expected to be pluralistic and seen as partners in development. We are simply contributing our quota to national building.
Access to information, particularly from official sources, is a big task for journalists in the Gambia. We on the side of the press, we love to have information directly from government which will be from government, preferably through spokespersons or to press officers.
Anti media laws are thorns on the fresh of journalists and the media. They are inimical to freedom of expression and the media and thwart the efforts of the media.
In short, libel should be decriminalised and the law on sedition should be repealed. The law on false publication and the Newspaper (Amendment) Act 2004 should also be repealed as they serve for no other purpose than to serve as bottleneck in our democratic process.
Access for training for media practitioners has seen some progress, but a lot more need to be done. The institutionalisation of training of media practitioners, particularly to diploma level at the University of the Gambia must be pursued vigorously. This will enhance the quality of output and strengthen professionalism.
The high cost of printing materials and other taxes should be reviewed. We are of the view that the education levy and other taxes should be waived as we also serve as educators. We also appeal to government to resume their subscription to the independent media and to pay on time their advertisements. As we speak some government offices owe us some substantial amounts of money and this is really affecting our production.
Your Excellency, the independent media houses need government subvention on annual basis to facilitate the maintenance and sustainability of the media as other states in the region do.
I want to thank you, Your Excellency, for receiving us and hope this marks the era of a new beginning. We also like to thank Fatou Camara for her foresight in facilitating this meeting just few weeks after assuming office. In that note, Your Excellency we will like to thank you very much and the members of the cabinet.

Sam Sarr, Foroyaa Newspaper
Let’s hope that this is the beginning of fruitful discussions between the media and the executive.
The executive of course has a role, functions but the media also has its role and functions. The role of the media is clearly defined in the constitution and I’m interested in knowing the position of the executive on this issue.   It is good to have a frank discussion and that’s the way things have started, the president has spoken his mind and others have also spoken.
I’m interested in knowing the position of the government regarding section 207(3) which states that the press and other information media shall at all times be free to uphold  the principles, position and objectives of this constitution and the responsibility and accountability of the Gambia government to the people to the people of the Gambia. As far as Foroyaa is concerned this serves as our guiding principle. It is often interpreted as being anti government, creating a situation of instability or being hostile to the government as one applies this principle, but really this is why the press is referred to as the fourth estate. Governments have to be kept on their toes in order to assist them to become more effective and also to prevent certain wrong doings and errors that may arise in the process of governance.
Needless to say, for us to be able to hold government accountable to the people it is necessary that we have access to information. The president has made it clear that there is nothing preventing public servants from divulging information although the reality as we have experienced seems to be on the contrary. You call a permanent sectary and ask for simple information, the answer is always writing a letter. Media practitioners know what it means when one is not requesting for full interviews but for a news item. By the time you go to press that is already stale news. Let me tell you that we were following a department for a press release but up till the time of coming here we could not get this release from this department concerning groundnut trade. And we have to give the people accurate information; we cannot rely on secondary sources.
I will not spend much time talking about access but another aspect which we have to put into consideration is there must be freedom of expression. If something is bothering your mind and you always think twice before putting pen on paper, for fear of arrest, detention or imprisonment, this would tantamount to self censorship which is inimical to freedom of expression.
Well it is appreciated that up to 19 radio stations are operating but do these radio stations broadcast news? I mean broadcasting national news not the relay of international news. That’s the issue. There must be alternate broadcast of news, that is, news from different angles. That means the media should be pluralistic.
Section 208 of the constitution makes provision for the affording of fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinion by the state media. What is the position of the executive on this constitutional provision?
All these are issues that have to be handled in order for us to make progress. The president has made it clear that we cannot have a situation were every body expresses views that support his government. There must be room for divergent views and dissenting opinions.
I want to comment on the attitude on the executive. We have a situation where matters have been published which are inaccurate but do they warrant those people been prosecuted as happened to a newspaper that published wrong information about the appointment of a minister, which does not really harm the reputation of that person? The paper did rectify it, but did it warrant the prosecution of the editor of that paper, couldn’t a press release have been issued to clarify the matter?
It also happens that when references are made to the killing of Deyda Hydara and the disappearance of Chief Manneh there seems to be uneasiness on the part of the executive, while it should be the concern of both the executive and the media, because it involves the disappearance or the death of a Gambian. We need to work together and deal with that particular situation.
May be there can be follow ups from the ministry of information and communication. I think a dialogue can lead to a positive outcome.
I will also associate myself with the recommendations made by Mr. Swaebou Conateh.  

Hamid Adiamoh, Today Newspaper
Your Excellency the President of the Republic, Sheikh Professor Yahya Jammeh, Your Excellency the Vice President, Honourable Ministers, Colleagues in the media, ladies and gentlemen. Let me first say on my behalf and behalf of the media fraternity for the singular honour you accorded us to come around here today to have your audience. It is definitely a singular honour and we are definitely, truly and honestly grateful about it.
Let me first say that for my part I’m a Non Gambian, I think I’m a Gambian by heart anyway. I also want to say that as a Nigerian I want to tell you very honestly that The Gambia is a very beautiful country. It a very a peaceful country. It is a very stable country and this is the reality that everybody in the world knows.
And some time as journalists I feel by default not to be allowed to truly portrait the positive image of the Gambia, because the role of a journalist as my elders have said actually goes beyond what we just report. We are also the image maker of the environment in which we report whether we admit it or not. And like you have said, Your Excellency, the international media, some of the things you have said are entirely true. And we admitted it that international media and the western countries sometime do not have honest intentions about African countries. Allow me to say, Your Excellency, with due respect, sometimes also some African countries and governments also play into those machinations because if you want to say that the Gambia is a country without freedom of expression, I guess The Gambia also has the responsibility to ensue that we do not fall into this game.
Like you have said, I cannot speak the mind of everybody here because I am not God. But after years of interaction with colleagues in the press, I can tell you honestly, Your Excellency, that I do not think that there is anybody who has set out to vilify the image of the Gambia Government. I do not know any newspaper locally that is in the print media, that has set out deliberately to vilify the image of your government.
The Gambia is a country that is making progress. For those of us who are from the other part of the world, we can compare and if you want to be honest, we know the realities. So I would just say, Your Excellency, that the reason why we are here today is very significant in the sense that it is possible for the media and the government to have some kind of relationship which I think will be of benefit of all.
As an African and as a young person, when the elders speak it is final and I cannot repeat what the elders have said. I just want to say to conclude, I want to emphasise the importance of briefing the media which may be small and with few people, but truly the institution that we represent is very significant. And I think it is a norm in other parts of the world and I think it should be constituted. I understand the reason why it was stopped. But I want to say also that within ourselves we understand the importance of this and we can assure you that we will challenge ourselves to ensure that if we have the opportunity again from the level of the GPU and from the level of the media organisations to ensure that we do the best of this opportunity. Thank you very much once again for giving us this opportunity.

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