Gambia has seen considerable progress in terms of press freedom since the end of Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorship in 2017. The criminalisation of defamation was declared unconstitutional in 2018, attacks on journalists have decreased, and new media outlets have been launched.
Since Adama Barrow’s inauguration as president in January 2017, the state-owned broadcaster has lost its monopoly, and many radio and TV outlets, both privately owned and community-based, have been created. Gambia has 45 radio stations, one of which is state-owned; five TV channels, four of which are privately owned; four dailies, of which the most important is The Point; and a newspaper that is published three times a week, Gambia Daily.
Most Gambians regard the country’s media as free and not subject to 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 privately owned radio stations, King FM and Home Digital FM, were suspended for one month, and their directors were detained for four days for “inciting hatred” by covering political demonstrations organised by opposition parties. The government does not particularly target the media, but there is no political will to protect journalists by passing laws that safeguard their interests.
A law on access to information was adopted in 2021. This was a historic moment in a country that, for the first time, recognised access to information as a human right. However, it has not yet been implemented. Similarly, as the new constitution has not yet been adopted, its safeguards have yet to take effect. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that criminalising defamation and criminalising use of the Internet to criticise or disseminate false information about government officials were both unconstitutional. This was also a notable advance, tempered by the fact that draconian media laws passed under Yahya Jammeh remain in effect and still carry prison sentences for journalists. Aware of this legislative pressure, leading media outlets sometimes censor themselves on certain matters despite the prevailing freedom of expression.
The Gambian media have been experiencing major economic difficulties because of high taxes, the high cost of printing material, which keeps on rising, a fall in advertising revenue resulting from the pandemic-induced financial crisis, and the absence of state subsidies. In response to this situation, the government allocated a subsidy of approximately 270,000 euros to the media in July 2020. It was the first time that the Gambian government has provided the media with a subsidy since independence in 1965.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions, and even enforced disappearances were common under Yahya Jammeh. Since his ouster, the number of threats and attacks against journalists has fallen sharply. Journalists can still be easily threatened with legal action and are still often treated brutally by security forces, but no journalist has been jailed since 2017. In December 2021, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission recommended that an investigation be opened as a first step towards prosecuting the state agents who participated in various Jammeh-era crimes, including the 2004 murder of journalist Deyda Hydara, the arson attack on Radio 1 FM and the attacks on The Independent newspaper.