The 2021 World Press Freedom Index is here. The Gambia is 85th out of 180 countries according to “Reporters Sans Frontières”. The poor ranking has to do with the long-awaiting major reforms of the repressive media laws in The Gambia that continue to drag. These reforms include laws on fake news, defamation and criminal defamation. The often-violent behaviour of the security forces in their relations with journalists is another issue that needs to be resolved.
Overall, the 2021 Gambia World Press Freedom Index score is 30.76 this year. It’s tiny progress of +2 compared to the year 2020 when The Gambia was 87th in the global ranking.
The Gambia has continued to progress despite some notable press freedom violations in 2020. Since Dictator Yahya Jammeh’s departure in January 2017, the new president, Adama Barrow, has begun realizing his promise to create an environment that favours the media’s development.
The state radio and TV no longer have a broadcast news monopoly, and several communities and privately owned radio and TV stations have been created. In 2020, the country had 4 daily newspapers, a tri-weekly, 33 radio stations and 6 TV channels.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the criminalization of defamation is unconstitutional. Despite the good intentions expressed by Barrow, the long-awaited overhaul of legislation that violates press freedom has yet to materialize. Since then, a legislative reform bill submitted to the national assembly in 2019 is still blocked.
Of the more than 100 journalists who fled abroad during the dictatorship, at least 30 have returned, according to RSF.
Nonetheless, the old habits from 23 years of terror and suppression of press freedom have not yet fully disappeared.
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index recalls how The Gambia government closed two privately-owned radio stations, King FM and Home Digital FM, for a month in early 2020. Their managers were arrested for allegedly “inciting hatred” in their coverage of protests organized by opposition political parties.
The government rescinded a foreign journalist, Nicolas Hague’s accreditation, claiming that the TV channel’s reporting had a pro-opposition “bias.”
RSF reminds us that former dictator Yahya Jammeh is still benefitting from the refuge he enjoys in Equatorial Guinea after he masterminded the murder of the journalist Deyda Hydara. Meanwhile, an army officer 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 calls for the extradition and judgment of Yahya Jammeh Jammeh, in a court of law in The Gambia, because of his role in the deaths of several journalists.
For the first time since the country’s independence in 1965, the government granted a subsidy to the media in July 2020 to help them through a financial crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.