By Alagie Manneh
The Gambia has made another progress in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 85 out of 180 countries surveyed. However according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “the old habits from 23 years of terror and suppression of press freedom have not yet fully disappeared.”
In its annual press freedom ranking report released last week, in which The Gambia made a two-point improvement from 87 in 2020, the France-based human rights watchdog said it observed “notable press freedom violations in 2020” in The Gambia.
“Since dictator Yahya Jammeh’s departure in January 2017, the new president, Adama Barrow, has begun realising his promise to create an environment that favours the media’s development,” the report said. “The state radio and TV no longer have a broadcast news monopoly and several community and privately-owned radio and TV stations have been created. In 2020, the country had four daily newspapers, a tri-weekly, 33 radio stations and six TV channels. The supreme court has ruled that the criminalisation of defamation is unconstitutional but, despite the good intentions expressed by Barrow, the long-awaited overhaul of legislation that violates press freedom has yet to materialise.”
RSF said of the more than 100 journalists who fled the country during the dictatorship, at least 30 have returned. “Nonetheless, the old habits from 23 years of terror and suppression of press freedom have not yet fully disappeared,” it stressed.
The release further noted: “Two privately-owned radio stations, King FM and Home Digital FM, were closed for a month in early 2020 and their managers were arrested for allegedly inciting hatred in their coverage of protests organised by opposition political parties. A foreign journalist’s press accreditation was rescinded because his TV channel was regarded as having a pro-opposition bias. An army officer meanwhile confessed to Gambia’s truth and reconciliation commission that, acting on President Jammeh’s orders, he carried out the 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara, a leading Gambian journalist who worked as RSF’s correspondent. RSF is calling for Jammeh, now living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, to be extradited back to Gambia because of his role in the deaths of several journalists. A legislative reform bill that was submitted to the national assembly in 2019 is still blocked.”
Meanwhile the Gambia government dispatched a press release last week praising the country for “performing significantly well” in the 2021 press freedom index.
A release signed by government spokesperson Ebrima G Sankareh said: “Convinced by the inherent power in information dissemination and access to information as crucial elements in a transparent, democratic state, the Barrow Government since assuming power, modified The Gambia media regulatory framework. The impact of this modification in terms of media pluralism is felt nationwide with the presence of over 33 radio stations, 6TV channels, 4 daily newspapers, 1 tri-weekly publication and numerous online media platforms that are actively stimulating public discourse towards consolidating our post-totalitarian democracy.”
The release said the Government under President Barrow “continues to encourage responsible media freedom to restore The Gambia’s past glory of a fledgling democratic state with respect for human and people’s rights”.
The Banjul Correspondent of RSF Pap Saine, who is the co-director of The Point Newspaper, said Government should complement this improvement with prompt payment of advertisement debts it owed to media houses.