The Commonwealth fact-finding mission that had earlier visited The Gambia has expressed concern over the closure of The Daily Observer.
When The Gambia applied to re-join the commonwealth, the bloc sent in a team of eminent individuals “to provide an assessment of the country’s suitability for re-admission, and the support that the Commonwealth family of member nations, intergovernmental organisations, and accredited organisations should provide to The Gambia in the event of its re-entry.
The objective of such an assessment would be to ensure that The Gambia can be assisted to establish a more enduring democracy, adherence to constitutional values and good governance, and thus become a worthy member of The Commonwealth.”
Ahead of the official release of the report on Gambia during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London later this month, The Standard was privy to the report and one of the concerns highlighted by the team is the closure of a one-time Gambia’s most widely read daily newspaper.
The reported stated: “One note of concern is the closure of the Observer newspaper, raised with us by a number of people we spoke to. The paper was targeted by the Barrow government as part of its freezing of Yahya Jammeh’s assets, a move described to us as ‘unnecessary, ‘vindictive and petty.’ The Information Minister assured us his ministry was working to have the newspaper reopened and we hope this can happen swiftly.”
However, according to the Commonwealth report, the new government has provided a relatively freer media environment for journalists as opposed to the Jammeh regime.
It added: “Since the transition, space for a free media has significantly increased. Most media companies that had been closed under the Jammeh System have reopened, including Citizen and Taranga radio stations……
There are now 20 private radio stations operating, and four daily and one weekly newspaper. Although the Fatou radio station and Freedom newspaper were both described to us as critical, an analysis of their online content supports the view that there is widely accepted that there is ongoing self-censorship by domestic media in The Gambia. A positive development would be the expansion of investigative journalism, and an access to information law.”
The team also revealed a chat with the information minister Demba Jawo regarding the protracted freedom of information law and ridding the constitution of all draconian media laws that have stifled journalists for over two decades.
“To further protect the environment for the media, the Information Ministry is working to reform media laws to remove the prospect of journalists facing charges of Sedition, Libel, and Treason, and to ensure Gambians have access to a free and fair media. There is also a draft Freedom of Information Act.
“The proposed legal reforms should be pursued swiftly to reinforce this. Training of the security forces human rights and how to interact with the media will be important to fully move away from the Jammeh System, and the government should be more open and transparent with the press. However, the media, and the its increasing space and freedom to operate in are among the most obvious achievements in Gambia since the change of government,” the reported added.
The Commission was led by Nyameko Barney Pityana, former Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission. The other Commissioners were Zeinab Badawi, broadcaster and Chair of the Royal African Society, and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former chair of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission. The Commissioners were supported by David White, Director of the London Office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.