The GPU should not have awarded Attorney General Baa Tambadou with the Press Hero Award. Here’s why?
Alagi Yorro Jallow
It is easy enough to find absurdities in any list of formal awards–e.g., Pearl Buck and William Golding won the Nobel Prize, while Tolstoy, Joyce, and Proust did not–but, with the Oscars, absurdity has been more the rule than the exception.
Yet the Gambia Press Union has decided that what journalists need is to become even more absurd, hence the new category of “awarding government officials.” The optimistic take on this is that perhaps it will make it plain to everyone that the Gambia Press Union Award Night is best simply ignored.
No one has done more for the Gambia Press Union and independent journalists in recent years than lawyer Hawa Sisay Sabally who represented the GPU and all heads of Media Chiefs to challenge the infamous National Media Commission before the Supreme Court of the Gambia.
The Coalition of Human Rights Lawyers during the Second Republic which the current Attorney General and Justice Minister, Baa Tambadou, was an active member arbitrarily demanded from the Gambia Press Union US$20,000 for them to challenge the National Media Commission about its unconstitutionality, through its then chairman Lawyer Ousman Sillah who handed a letter and a bill to GPU and media chiefs in his office.
Ms. Hawa Sisay Sabally, whose representation has been truly outstanding. Hawa accepted the token sum of $3,000 from GPU partners OSWIA and returned $1,000 to the GPU coffers
It’s nice to see someone get an award who so richly deserves it; and I hope this will help persuade more lawyers and politicians to take Hawa Sisay Sabally’s excellent example and service with the private media.
I suspect that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr. Baa Tambadou sometimes fantasizes about being able to be doing things. But that no more makes him a true friend of the private media than his own fantasies make him a rock star, or an award Prize-winning Attorney-General, or the winning quarterback at the Super Bowl.
I did not see the Gambia Press Union citations justify awarding the Attorney General and Minister of Justice with that prestigious award. I dissented to the award reasons amongst cited above and the emotional plea of Former President of the Gambia Press Union and co- chair of the Media Review Committee, Ms. Ndey Tapha Sosseh during her closing statement at the Truth, Reconciliation and Repatriation Commission hearing.
Ndey Tapha’s closing statement disqualifies the Attorney General and Minister of Justice a deserving media award from the Gambia Press Union.
For almost two years the Gambia government waits for its secret draft Freedom of Information bill to be made public. The draft Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is still a government secret document. Only the privileged few know what’s in that very important draft bill.
Secondly, there is no coordinated point from which society may debate and jointly respond to the draft whenever if ever it is made public, before presentation to parliament.
President Adama Barrow and Baa Tambadou have failed the election campaign promises of media reforms unlike in Ghana, where the Parliament passed the Right to Information Bill into law, striking a momentous goal for democracy, transparency, media freedom and the fight against corruption and graft.
The Ghanaian Attorney General’s unshakeable commitment to democracy, transparency and the rule of law has been demonstrated during his tenure as Attorney General. He repealed the Criminal Libel Law, paving the way for the boisterous media environment Ghanaian journalists enjoy today.
History will remember the President of Ghana and his Attorney -General and for taking these firm legal and political decisions in-spite of the political risks, for putting the health of the republic of Ghana above parochial considerations and for advancing the cause of democracy and press freedom.
Testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, former President of the Gambia Press Union, Ms. Ndey Tapha Sosseh in her closing statement pilloried the Gambia government in such an emotional statement decried that nothing has yet been done to execute and implement the report and recommendation of the Media Review Committee under the Ministry of Information and Communication.
She told the Commission that “we are living in a country where the same old media laws, the same old Criminal Code still exist”.
She further stated: “I happen to know that work has been done because I was co-Chair of the Media Review Committee. The Committee has submitted a report more than one year ago and nothing has been done.”
Ndey also appealed to the authorities “So, these are all things that we should see the media being interested about and talking. Because once the transition disappears, many of these things are going to stay. And it means that “Never Again” may not even be never again, I’m afraid. “she concluded emphatically.
However, the Media Review Committee task force on the Freedom of Information law has completed its work on the draft bill. The bill should have been ‘launched in the last two years for public scrutiny and input before submission to cabinet and the National Assembly.
The FOI draft bill still not forwarded to a parliamentary subcommittee on information and broadcasting before being considered by the cabinet and then submitted to parliament.
However, before that, the government has to ensure that the bill has all the required ingredients before tabling it in parliament.
The Freedom of Information Act protect privacy under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The law guarantees every citizen access to information about government actions, yet ensures their personal information is confidential. (Personal health records are none of anybody’s business.)
The Right to Information Act is the latest law that has codified the “freedom of speech and expression” guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) in terms of the right to receive information. This law consolidates all the provisions facilitating access to information in different legislations.
FOI has revolutionarily changed the so-called law of privilege where the government used to hold information in secret as a matter of principle and allow it to be disclosed only exceptionally.
Since the FOI law, the rule is disclosure and exception in withholding information. FOI overrides the Official Secrets Act of 1922 and all other legislation that contradicts or conflicts with the FOI Act.
The provisions of privilege in the Gambian Evidence Act must give way to the disclosure of information. Official documents pertain to affairs of state; they cannot be withheld by the state as privileged documents under the Evidence Act but must be disclosed under the Right to Information Act.
The Gambia like a few other African countries, has been grappling with the adoption of the Access to Information (ATI) law over the past two decades The Gambia government approach towards easing access to public information has been faulty, because it is narrowly focused and this has resulted in the process stalling.
The Access to Information law (ATT) is part of a global political and social movement towards greater transparency.
Furthermore, the government’s approach to the law, Freedom of Information Act and the Right to Information whose push is dominated by executive control, the approach has impacted on good governance.