Journalists in The Gambia have petitioned President Yahya Jammeh not to sign into law a controversial media bill passed by parliament last week. Jammeh, however, left for New York on Monday to attend the 8-10 May United Nations conference on children.
The Chairman of the Gambia Press Union, Demba Jawo, said they would challenge the bill in court if the petition to the president fails. "We intend to go to court to block this draconian law because some of its provisions are incompatible with the provisions of the Gambian constitution," Jawo told IRIN from the capital, Banjul.
Journalists would be required, under the new bill, to register with a National Media Commission that is empowered to enforce a media code of conduct, register the journalists, summon journalists to answer complaints against them from aggrieved parties and judge the complaints. It would also set standards on content and quality of material for publication or broadcast by the media.
The commission, according to the bill, would also "ensure the impartiality, professionalism and independence of the media, promote the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards in the mass media, facilitate the registration of newspaper journals and broadcasting stations in accordance with the constitution".
Journalists thronged the Gambian National Assembly on Thursday night when the bill was debated, but were unable to convince legislators not to pass it.
The external affairs officer of the press union, Ebrima Sillah, said the journalists were worried because the proposed media commission would have the status of a high court even though its 12 members would include only one legal official.