The authoritarian regime of dictator Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia is currently promulgating a Bill that will establish a National Media Commission (NMC).
The Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Nana Grey Johnson, on July 23, 2013, made this known to journalists after he invited the executive members of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) to his office in an impromptu meeting to notify the journalists’ body of plans to establish another National Media Commission.
The first NMC Act was repealed on December 13, 2004, a day before the brutal murder of veteran journalist Deyda Hydara and was on the same day replaced with two equally repressive pieces of legislation- the Newspaper Amendment Act and Criminal Code Amendment Act 2004 respectively.
“My ministry hired the services of two people (one from the Ghana Media Commission and another from the Senegalese Media Commission) to present papers at a proposed three-day stakeholders workshop with a view to help establish a National Media Commission,” Nana Grey Johnson told the GPU, describing the proposed NMC as a “self-regulatory body”.
According to the Information Minister, the three-day workshop will take place immediately after the Muslim month of Ramadan for a concept paper to be drawn. “It is good to have an intermediary that would regulate the media so that government would not be blamed for the closure of media houses and prosecution of journalists,” he added.
Though nothing has been agreed to yet, Mr. Johnson said the proposed NMC will regulate the media and allow for the reduction of bond for the registration of media houses from D500, 000 to “something reasonable”. “It will set standards for who should be a journalist, and be given mandate to punish media offenders.”
Nana Grey urged the GPU to present a paper on its position over the establishment of the NMC at the proposed stakeholders’ workshop.
However, local journalists have told ASN the GPU must not accept anything similar to the scrapped 2002 National Media Commission Bill which was to empower the Commission to imprison and register journalists.
“Any NMC must exist to promote press freedom, free expression and an independent and responsible media to sustain democracy and national development. It must not be composed of Government-chosen members and must not be empowered to imprison or register journalists,” journalists told ASN.
There has been no public reaction from the journalists’ parent body- GPU. ASN however learnt that the Union is convening a one-day forum on August 17, for media owners in the country to discuss “a roadmap” for the proposed NMC initiative”.
In April this year, the Gambia’s rubberstamp National Assembly amended the Criminal Code on False Information which allows for a two-year jail term and a fine of D250, 000 or both. And in July 3, the same rubberstamp Assembly amended the Information Communication Act 2009 which allows for a 15 year jail term and a D3 million fine or both for those found guilty of spreading “false news” on the internet.
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