International media watchdog condemns proposed law

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has expressed concern over a media bill which, it says, poses a threat to press freedom in The Gambia and should not be enacted, WAN said in a news release on Friday.

"We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 100 countries, to express our serious concern at the passing of a media law that threatens the freedom of the press," WAN said in a letter to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. The law "may conflict with the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Gambian Constitution", WAN added.

The Chairman of the Gambia Press Union, Demba Jawo, which has also appealed to Jammeh not to sign the bill into law, said last week that "some of its provisions are incompatible with the provisions of the Gambian constitution". Jawo said they would challenge it in court if their petition to Jammeh failed.

The controversial law was passed by parliament over two weeks ago. Under the new bill, journalists would be required to register with a National Media Commission that is empowered to enforce a media code of conduct, register 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 "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".