The Gambia Press Union is concerned by the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS)’s act of censorship in an editorial policy update which seeks to ignore voices of people and organisations calling for better working conditions.
The memo, signed by the Director General of GRTS, Malick Jeng, and dated 12th September, 2022, orders all staff of the News and Current Affairs Department to cease providing a platform to all organisers of industrial action in all sectors.
“It is not our calling as a national broadcaster to promote any action that can destabilise the nation or put our people in difficult circumstances. On the contrary, we should feature the official reaction of government agencies and law enforcement authorities. Trade unionists should engage the relevant Government institutions such as the Department of Labour to resolve the issues,” Jeng stated in a memo after the Transport Union announced a nationwide strike over fuel prices and bridge toll fees.
“The GPU found this directive to be illegal as it is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1997 Constitution,” GPU President, Muhammed S. Bah, said. “We are therefore calling on the Director General of GRTS to rescind this directive with immediate effect and create space for divergent views in programmes of both the state radio and television.”
Section 25(a) of the Constitution provides that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and the media”. Also, section 208 of the Constitution further provides that “all State-owned newspapers, journals, radio and television shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions”.
The obligation to afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and opinion extends to the right of all Trade Unions or organisers of industrial actions (strikes) to be afforded media coverage.
In this regard, sections 107 and 137 of the Labour Act, 2007 provides for the rights of workers to form trade unions and to undertake industrial actions, if they so wish.
Section 107 states that “workers and employers have the right to establish and join workers’ and employers’ organisations of their choice in accordance with the Constitution and laws of The Gambia.”
Section 137 provides that “it is lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union or of an individual employer in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to assemble – at or near their own place of employment; or if the persons are officials of the registered trade union; at or near the place of employment of employees whom they represent, if they so assemble for the purpose of peacefully persuading a person to work or abstain from working or to communicate information.”
The directive is also a violation of the General Principles of the Cherno Jallow Charter of Ethics for Journalists on “public interest and the social responsibility” of journalists and the media.
The Charter provides that journalists and media houses “shall uphold the public’s right to fair, accurate, balanced information of issues and events of public interest.”
In light of the above, we are also urging the Minister of Information, Lamin Queen Jammeh, to initiate and work closely with relevant stakeholders to implement recommendations by the Truth Commission to transform GRTS into an editorially-independent public service broadcaster.
“The government must keep its promise to task the Ministry of Information to work with GRTS [and relevant stakeholders] to fulfill the broadcaster’s constitutional mandate by providing divergent views on national issues, including workers’ strikes,” GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said.
“The reform of GRTS is necessary, and should be treated as a top priority, to break from an unacceptable past of censoring critical voices on national issues, including those of striking workers and the opposition. This is necessary to ensure government accountability and to create the democratic space needed for freedom of expression to thrive.”
Finally, we note that the Truth Commission’s recommendations are in line with the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa that was adopted by the African Commission in Banjul in 2002.
As per the declaration, State and government-controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters, accountable to the public through the legislature rather than the government, in accordance with the following principles:
public broadcasters should be governed by a board which is protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature;
the editorial independence of public service broadcasters should be guaranteed;
public broadcasters should be adequately funded in a manner that protects them from arbitrary interference with their budgets;
public broadcasters should strive to ensure that their transmission system covers the whole territory of the country; and
the public service ambit of public broadcasters should be clearly defined and include an obligation to ensure that the public receive adequate, politically balanced information, particularly during election periods.
Source: GPU, Fajara, 16th September 2022