Gambian government gives strong commitment to media freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the new Gambian government’s pledge to amend the country’s media laws and shed light on the deaths of journalists during the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship, and says it is ready to assist these efforts to establish the truth and render justice.

By reiterating the new government’s commitment to media freedom, the minister of information and communication, Demba Ali Jawo, has made it clear that a new page is in the process of being turned in Gambia.

The minister’s comments were delivered at a ceremony at the law faculty in Banjul on 3 May to mark World Press Freedom Day, an event that had not been officially celebrated in Gambia for the past 20 years.

“Reconciliation certainly is a priority of the government, but I can assure you it will not happen at the expense of justice for our colleagues who were victims during the former regime; which include the late Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh and Omar Barrow, and all journalists who were subjected to torture in the hand of agents of the former regime,” Jawo said.

Jawo said he also intended to amend Gambia’s media laws in order to bring them into compliance with international standards. Draconian media laws were adopted in the final years of the Jammeh dictatorship.

“We enthusiastically welcome information minister Jawo’s statements,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We are ready to support initiatives aimed as establishing the truth and justice for the journalists who disappeared during the Jammeh era. They include our correspondent, Deyda Hydara, who was murdered in 2004. And we urge the minister to quickly embark on the legislative reforms that will finally give Gambia’s journalists a free and ethical environment.”

Jawo also talked of creating new media outlets including privately-owned TV channels. This would be unprecedented in this small country, where the state currently has a monopoly of TV broadcasting.

On media regulation, Jawo said he favoured a system of self-regulation and undertook to consult with such parties as the Gambian Press Union, which is very active in such areas as journalistic training, ethics and freedom.

Since President Adama Barrow and his government took office in January, they have made several statements supporting the principle of media freedom. RSF wrote to President Barrow in March to express its support for these initiatives.

Under President Jammeh, journalists lived in terror and had to censor themselves to avoid disappearing or being murdered. Many fled the country. Others were subjected to drawn-out legal proceedings. Social networks could not be accessed without using a VPN and the broadcast media were limited to a few radio stations and state TV, which just sang Jammeh’s praises.

Gambia has risen two places in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 143rd out of 180 countries.

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Updated on 05.05.2017