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Gambia's New Press Union Leadership Promises to Address Press Censorship Issues

Press freedom in the Gambia has suffered tremendously during the 14-year rule of President Yayah Jammeh. According to the Media Foundation of West Africa, President Jammeh’s rule has been characterized by violence, murder, intimidation, and disappearance of journalists. In 2004, journalist Deyda Hydara was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen. The government denied its security forces were responsible.

The Gambia government has been sued in the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa for the disappearance in July 2006 of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh. Against this backdrop, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) has elected its new leaders.

Nbey Sosseh, the newly elected president of the Press Union told VOA from Banjul, that her administration’s priorities include engaging the government to address press freedom issues in the Gambia.

“At the last congress, the first task of the executive was to set up a select committee to review the constitution of the press union, which has in many ways limited the union’s activities that we can embark on and to also reactivate and energize our membership. Secondly, we will continue training of journalists. We are also looking at brining the media houses together,” she said.

According to the Media Foundation of West Africa, a freelance journalist with the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper was dismissed by the newspaper’s management after he was elected as an executive member of the Gambian Press Union. Sosseh described the episode as regrettable.

“It is rather unfortunate that the Daily Observer has chosen to sk a member of staff to leave because he associated with the union. But the union is a union for all Gambian journalists irrespective of editorial slant or orientation. So it is in the interest of all journalists that we all work together to address the issues affecting us like access to information. It is quite difficult to get information in the Gambia. There’s a lot of self-censorship that people have had in the past. And we will continue to engage the government in dialogue. May be there is misunderstanding in some quarters,” she said.

The director of the pro-government Daily Observer accused past leaders of the GPU and the pro-opposition Foroyaa Newspaper of hijacking the union. But Sosseh disagreed with the comment.

“I totally disagree with such statement, and I think that coming from a media practitioner it is rather unfortunate. This is the GPU. There is no journalist in the Gambia who cannot have access to information at the union. For purposes of fairness, we invited the Gambia Elections Commission to conduct the election. They conducted the election. Before that, we put up a list of members who were eligible to vote. We advertised it in the papers and we asked people to come up for inspection. So people could have cried foul before the election. But they did not do that. They gave the election credibility by putting candidates, and if you don’t win you cannot say the election is not fair,” Sosseh said.

The Gambian government has been sued in the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa for the disappearance in July 2006 of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh. Sosseh acknowledged that the case is one of the challenges confronting her administration.

“We are certainly are aware and from the first day we have been talking about it. At the level of the union, we tried to get his place of work to come together with us to try and find out about his whereabouts because other papers are reporting that they have seen him in different places of the country. The executive of the union tried to engage the security forces and obviously they denied knowing his whereabouts. It is now at the level of the ECOWAS Court through the Media Foundation. But we will continue to talk about Chief Manneh,” she said.

Sosseh said the past four years have been difficult in terms of press censorship in the Gambia. But now she said harassment or detention of journalists has been waning.