August 1, 2002
President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh
State House, Banjul
Via facsimile: 220 227 03485
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly urges you to reject the National Media Commission Bill 2002, which would impose unacceptable restrictions on the press’s ability to cover the news in The Gambia.
This pernicious piece of legislation would give a state-appointed committee the right to license and register journalists (and would subject heavy fines and suspension for failure to do so), force reporters to reveal confidential sources, issue arrest warrants to journalists, and formulate a journalistic code of ethics.
On May 2, the Gambian Parliament passed the bill. Your Excellency refused to sign the bill into law at that time, however, and you sent it back to legislators for amendment.
On July 24, Parliament again passed the bill. Sources in the capital, Banjul, told CPJ that legislators only modified how commission members are selected. While the first bill mandated that Your Excellency would select the chairperson of the commission, the revised bill states that the chief justice shall appoint a high court judge to chair the body.
This single change is merely cosmetic, leaving in place the bill’s many provisions that would restrict press freedom.
By making registration mandatory, for example, this bill would give government authorities the power to decide who is and is not a journalist. And by denying the right to confidentiality of sources, the bill would deprive journalists of one of the most essential elements for gathering information.
We therefore believe that this legislation violates journalists’ right to press freedom as guaranteed under the Gambian Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants journalists the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media.
During the last year, Gambian journalists implemented their own code of conduct. The restrictions in the National Media Commission Bill 2000 are unnecessary and damaging to a free press, and we call on you, Your Excellency, not to sign the bill into law.
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.