The Chronicle Gambia

Gambians Back Free Press, Scorn False News, Hate Speech, Afrobarometer Survey

Most Gambians support media freedom in principle but endorse government interference to prevent the publication of false news, hate speech, and views that criticize or insult the president, the latest Afrobarometer survey shows.

An overwhelming majority of Gambians say the media is, in fact, free to do its work without government interference.

Most Gambians get their news from the radio and television, the survey shows, but social media and the Internet are major sources of regular news. At the same time, a majority of citizens blame social media users for knowingly spreading false news.

The Gambia’s media environment has become somewhat less restrictive in recent years, including a 2018 Supreme Court decision that the criminalization of defamation is unconstitutional. The 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranked the Gambia 85th out of 180 countries in media freedom, up to two spots from the previous year.

Key findings in the latest Afrobarometer

Over eight in ten Gambians (46%) say the media is “completely free.” Others (36%) believe it’s “somewhat free” to report and comment on the news without censorship or interference from the government.

Respondents were asked: Let’s talk for a moment about the kind of society you would like to have in this country. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
Statement 1: The media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control. Statement 2: The government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it disapproves of.
(% who “agree” or “strongly agree” with each statement)

Three among four Gambians (75%) say they listen to radio news “every day” or “a few times a week,” making radio the country’s most widely used news source. Television is in second place (63%), followed by social media (55%) and the Internet (40%).

More than two-thirds (68%) say the media should be free to publish any views without government control (Figure 3).

However, large majorities say the government should be able to limit or prohibit the sharing of news or information that is false (85%), hate speech (84%), and information or opinions that criticize or insult the president (76%). Four in ten citizens (42%) approve of restrictions against information or opinions that the government disapproves of.

More than eight in 10 citizens (84%) say that social media users spread information that they know is false, including 51% who say they do so “often.”

Majorities also blame politicians and political parties (78%), government officials (63%), and the news media (60%) for at least “sometimes” knowingly spreading false news.

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