Yesterday May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. As members of the Press Union of Liberia converged on Lofa County's Voinjama City to commemorate the day, other well-meaning individuals around the globe, recognizing the importance of this auspicious occasion, were also in solidarity with the media.
Highlighting the importance of a free, unfettered press in promoting human rights, democratic societies and sustainable development, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all and sundry to safeguard the independence of the media and honor media workers who risk and lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. “This year, World Press Freedom Day coincides with three important milestones. It is the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland, and it is the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles. Finally, 2016 is also the first year of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” Ban said when he delivered a message on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2016 in New York. Press freedom and free flow of information, Ban said, are necessary not only to inform citizens about the Goals, but to enable them to hold their leaders accountable for fulfilling the pledges they have made. “The media – including, and increasingly, new online media -- serve as our eyes and ears. We all benefit from the information they provide. A free, independent and safe media environment is essential. Yet, all too often, journalists are threatened, harassed, obstructed or even killed in the pursuit of information. Many languish in detention, some in appalling conditions, for shedding light on governance failures, corporate malfeasance or societal problems,” said Ban. Although journalists around the globe continue to face strife in the execution of their duties, the UNSG’s statement hits home harder for West Africa’s Gambia, where the Government of Yahyah Jammeh is systematically clamping down on the media and hounding journalists. The case of detained journalist Alhagie Abdouie Ceesay, managing director of the independent radio station Teranga FM, who was charged with sedition and “publication of false news” is a clear example of Jammeh’s madness. Whether Ceesay is dead or alive is left to conjecture while international media watchdog groups continue to issue statements condemning Jammeh’s dictatorial grips on free press. For us at the Capitol Times, all we can do, as our kinsmen of the inky fraternity suffer in the Gambia, is to urge Jammeh to see reason and stop persecuting the media. He should look at other West African nations whose past leaders made the media public enemy Number One, and see how they fared. Which bring us right back home. While we continue to hail the appreciable level of progress made in media development and enhancing the democratic landscape, we sincerely believe more needs to be done to ensure press freedom in the truest sense. The allocation of advertorials from public institutions must be done systematically, without bias or favor. The payment of advertorial arrears should be less bureaucratic especially when media institutions have met all tax requirements. In the same token, the media too must look after its kind. We cannot continue to underpay our staff and expect them to perform ethically and responsibly. We just cannot afford to be seen as “pocketbook” professionals. On this World Press Freedom Day, this is our beef.