Following the 22-year reign of dictator Yahya Jammeh, Gambia has seen considerable progress in terms of press freedom. The crime of defamation was declared unconstitutional in 2018, attacks on journalists have decreased, and new media outlets have been launched.
Since President Adama Barrow was inaugurated in December 2016, the state-owned broadcaster lost its monopoly, and many radio and television networks, both private and community-based, emerged. Gambia has 33 radio stations, one of which is state-owned, six television networks, five of which are private, and four dailies (the most important being The Point). There are also three newspapers that are published three times a week.
Most Gambians consider the country’s media as free and operating without governmental interference. They operate without censorship and they accurately reflect the country’s diverse opinions. Nevertheless, the government does at times exert pressure on some media outlets. In early 2020, two private radio stations, King FM and Home Digital FM were suspended for one month, and their directors detained for four days for “inciting hatred” after covering political demonstrations organised by opposition parties.
A law on access to information was adopted in 2021. This was a historic moment in a country which, for the first time, recognized information access as a human right. The Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that penalising defamation was unconstitutional. This was a notable advance, tempered by the fact that draconian media laws passed under Jammeh remain in effect and still carry prison sentences for journalists.
The Gambian media face major economic hardships, given the absence of subsidies, the presence of high taxes and the high cost of printing equipment. The financial crisis set in motion by the Covid-19 pandemic saw a drop in advertising revenue. Given that situation, in July 2020, and for the first time since independence in 1965, the government allocated a subsidy of approximately 270,000 euros to the media, thereby aiding most radio stations and five newspapers.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions, even forced disappearances, were common under Jammeh. Since then, the number of threats and attacks against journalists have decreased sharply. Security forces often remain brutal in their dealings with the press, but no reporter has been jailed since 2017. And officials’ attitude toward journalists has changed. After prison guards attacked a journalist in April 2021, their superior was ordered to apologize. In December 2021, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission recommended that an investigation be opened, as a first step toward prosecuting officers who had participated in, among other crimes, the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara, the arson of Radio 1 FM and attacks on The Independent, a newspaper.