Media is the fourth arm of government. In a democracy, the role of the media cannot be overemphasized. As highlighted above, this role is so vital to the vibrancy of a democracy that some consider it to be an arm of government in addition to the executive, the judiciary and the legislature.
In order for the media to play its role effectively, it must have certain freedoms and a wide leeway to investigate and report on issues affecting the people. The media is supposed to educate, entertain and hold the government to account. It is therefore important for the media to have that freedom – press freedom.
Recently, the law on false news was challenged and the Supreme Court made a ruling saying that the law is constitutional. This is rather unfortunate in a budding democracy like ours. These types of laws inhibit journalists’ ability to do our work as any mistake can lead to prosecution leading to jail time or a heavy fine.
As such, the media will resort to what is referred to as self-censorship which will in the long run dampen the work that we do. These types of draconian laws are only found in dictatorships where the government will always be looking for ways to suppress information. In a democracy, the media should be free to do its work without fear of prosecution or persecution.
The ruling of the Supreme Court is therefore a threat to media freedom which is as good as a threat to democracy. We must find ways of repealing bad laws. Inasmuch as scrapping of other draconian media laws is welcome—criminal defamation—maintaining sedition and false news will no doubt drag us back in our efforts to decriminalize speech in The Gambia.