The Newspaper in The Gambia


By Prof Victor Shegun Benjie Owhotu, PhD (Sorbonne)

The newspaper in Africa and beyond has had an eventful, courageous and proud story to tell of its primary role and responsibility to inform, educate and perhaps entertain its readers on events and incidents that have taken place, are taking place, and emerging, as well as their interest and implications for the public good.

Such events and incidents usually come from two main sources: political leadership circles and socio-cultural circles made up of a wide range of people whose thoughts, words, actions and inactions, are important enough to be considered newsworthy and thereafter reported in the print media. A critical responsibility of the newspaper is to bridge the information gap, perceived or real, amongst and within social groups, especially between the leadership and the general public, with a particular emphasis on governance, transparency, and their potential or actual impact on the economic and social development of the average citizen.


However, this otherwise fundamental role has always proved to be a double-edged sword; it has inevitably created serious tension between the newspaper and the leadership class. Such tensions range from strong criticism, regulation of the press over perceived or real misinterpretation and or misrepresentation of facts, subjectivity, or bias, to cynicism and outright falsehood. In other words, while the journalist commits to investigating and presenting the truth and nothing but the truth to the discerning public, the reactions of the leadership, political, economic and social, have not always been tolerant. The journalist’s commitment to the ideal of true democratic governance that guarantees freedom of thought and expression has exposed the press practitioner to more serious occupational hazards under both elected government and authoritarian rulers. In effect, the fate of the newspaper from the colonial era to the present time has to a large extent been defined by the degree to which the democratic tenet of freedom of expression has, above all, been understood, interpreted and practiced by the press, and to the extent to which the political leadership understands and views what constitutes the limits of freedom of expression in the context of state security and national interest.

The author, Grey-Johnson, has presented more than a modest story of the early days and growth of the newspaper. It is, indeed, a scholarly history of the origins, role, achievements and challenges of the media in both colonial and independent Gambia, in its political, socio-cultural, economic and labour relations areas of interest and coverage. More importantly, it provides vivid profiles of an impressive list of Gambian icons of print journalism whose unrelenting agitations for press freedom and the safeguard of fundamental rights of association and expression would lead eventually to what should be considered the defining moment of the long-drawn struggle in Gambia media history, the relevant provision of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia. The outstanding roles played by print journalists and their respective newspapers in the struggle for social justice, decolonisation, and political independence; the confrontations with post-colonial governments over a wide range of governance, political, economic and social justice issues, have been clearly characterised in this insightful account of every newspaper or magazine that has been published in The Gambia over the past century. Particularly insightful are the memorable quotes at the beginning of each chapter; they each set the tone, as it were, and the content of the respective chapter.

The experiences of the Gambian newspapers ring true of many political environments in Africa and many countries of the world today, where tensions and serious confrontations still occur over what constitutes unbiased, objective, investigative journalism, as against the moral and legal limits of freedom of expression, guided by the dictates of discretion, state or national security, patriotism and national cohesion. Consequently, journalists often have to endure blatant abuse of their human rights, criminal prosecution and, not uncommonly, have lost life or limb. In the last decade, the situation has worsened and has become a major concern of the United Nations system, especially Unesco, the international human rights non-governmental organisations, and press unions in countries around the world. Unesco, for instance, through its regular programme activities of the communication and Information sector, has been unrelenting in its advocacy, policy dialogue and capacity-building actions in most Member States with any considerable media-related issues and challenges, in order to improve the safety of journalists and enhance freedom of expression. It also issues regular monitoring reports and press releases condemning incidents of abuse of the freedom of the press and the human rights of journalists. The challenges are, however, a long way yet from being resolved, and remain an ongoing global concern. 

It is obvious that this book is the outcome of long professional commitment of the author’s, from its early self-published rendition in 2004 as The Story of the Newspaper in The Gambia – An Interpretative Account of the History and Development of Newspaper Journalism to this 2020 edition under the updated title The Newspaper in The Gambia – An Interpretative History of Press Journalism. It offers media scholars and the general public the fruits of meticulous research and documentation, painstaking and competent weaving of diverse thematic strands into perhaps the most significant contribution, so far, to the knowledge of the history of the print media in The Gambia.

(The Newspaper in The Gambia – An Interpretative History of Press Journalism, ISBN: 978-9983-94-203-3, written by Nana Grey-Johnson, published by Baobab Printers, April, 2023, from research and writing begun in 1977.)