The Gambia Press Union (GPU) has called on the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to dismiss the petition submitted by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (GSIC) against the application for Television Broadcasting License by the Ahmadiya Muslim Jammat.
As the Authority mandated to regulate the broadcasting industry, PURA is required by Section 230 (5) of the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013 to publish applications received in relation to Television Broadcasting License.
Accordingly, upon receipt of Ahmadiya Muslim Jammat’s application, PURA has published the notice in accordance with Section 230 (6) of the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013, which required the Authority to invite petition from interested persons, who seek to oppose grant of license to an applicant.
It is in accordance with Section 230 (6) of the ICA that the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council petitioned PURA to reject Ahmadiya Muslim Jammat’s application for Television Broadcasting License. The Council argued that the Jammat is outside the pale of Islam; and that granting them license will allow them to pollute the minds of Muslims.
It is important to note that the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013 places the regulation of broadcasting – transmission and content – under PURA. However, the ultimate decision on issuance of television and radio license rests with the Minister for Information and Communication Infrastructure (MoICI). Section 230(1) provides that ‘the Minister, on the advice of the Authority, shall issue broadcasting licenses in sufficient numbers to meet the public demand for broadcasting services. Similarly, Section 232 provides that upon recommendation by the Authority, the Minister ‘may’ renew, revoke or suspend a broadcasting license.
In light of the above, the Gambia Press Union is of the considered view that whilst the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council might have acted within the law, the Council’s petition lack any legal basis or reasonable justification for consideration. The Authority is hereby urged not to give any favourable consideration to the petition. The petition should be rejected on the following grounds:
· Equality before the law
The 1997 Constitution of The Gambia dictates that all persons are equal before the law. The preamble of the Constitution states that: “The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in this Constitution will ensure for all time respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to ethnic considerations, gender, language or religion.”
· The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The Constitution dictates against any form of discrimination. It states that “Every person in the Gambia, whatever his or her race, colour, gender, Language, religion, political or other opinion, National or social origin, property, birth or other status, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms…” The Constitution further obliges the executive and enjoins all ‘natural persons’ to respect these principles.
· The Gambia is a Secular Republic
The 1997 Constitution of the Gambia recognises Gambia as a sovereign secular republic. The state and its agencies are obliged by law not to promote one religion over another.
· The Constitution Guarantees freedom of speech, and of the press for all
Section 25 (1) of the Constitution of The Gambia states that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. The right to own a media house is therefore not the prerogative of a single religious grouping.
· The Gambia’s obligation under international law
The Gambia is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Each of these international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression in that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression…’
Similarly, the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression states that State Parties shall encourage diverse, independent private broadcasting; that there shall be equitable allocation of frequencies between private broadcasting uses; and that licenses processes shall be fair and transparent.
The Declaration further states that “Freedom of expression imposes an obligation on the authorities to take positive measures to promote diversity, which include among other things availability and promotion of a range of information and ideas to the public; pluralistic access to the media and other means of communication, including by vulnerable or marginalised groups…”
Furthermore, regional and international standards dictate that ‘any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary and in a democratic society’. And the GSIC’s reasons as stipulated in its petition haven’t passed any of this cumulative three-part test.
The GPU therefore calls on PURA to process the application of the Ahmadiya Muslim Jammat in accordance with the principles of transparency, accountability, fairness, and participatory. The Union hereby testifies that the Jammat, through its schools and printing press, has made significant contributions towards media freedom and development in The Gambia. The Minister and PURA will be in violation of the Constitution and international law if it denies the Jammat TV license on the basis of religious differences.
The Supreme Islamic Council is called upon to uphold and promote freedom of expression, including tolerance to divergent views as a way of promoting religious tolerance in the country. Freedom of expression is not only a sine quo for democracy, but it also promotes the discovery of truth and lasting peace.
Rather than call for the Jammat to be censored, the Council should trust in the independence and intelligence of the Gambian populace to making informed decisions. The Council is free to put to contest the ideas it seeks to propagate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’.