In an independence day address on 18 February (the eve of the anniversary of his inauguration), President Barrow said his government was drafting an “information bill” and that a committee on media law reform had been set up to review the existing legislation and to help draft a new media law and a constitutional amendment that would enshrine freedom of expression in the constitution.
The president’s remarks have confirmed information minister Demba Ali Jawo’s earlier promise to overhaul the draconian laws imposed during more than two decades of dictatorship and terror under President Yahya Jammeh, who was finally removed in January 2017. And they confirm that a new era for the media is truly under way in Gambia.
In the past year, around 30 journalists have returned from exile, no journalist has been arrested, the first privately-owned TV channel, QTV, has been launched and the national radio and TV broadcaster GRTS has ceded its monopoly of the airwaves to the 16 commercial and community radio stations that are now broadcasting news and political discussion programmes in local languages.
“We welcome the Gambian government’s determination to work to ensure media freedom and pluralism but there is an urgent need to accelerate the reform process,” RSF said. “The media were gagged for too long by the press freedom predator Yahya Jammeh. The repressive media laws must be overhauled as quickly as possible to give journalists legal security and allow them to report the news freely without fear of reprisals.”
Saikou Jammeh, the secretary general of the Gambia Press Union, is among those who have been pressing the government for new media laws that are in line with international standards.
The Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on Gambia to repeal its media laws on sedition, false news and criminal defamation in a ruling issued on 14 February in response to a case brought by four Gambian journalists who had to flee the country because of these laws. Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency tortured two of them before they left.
Around 110 journalists fled into exile during the 23 years of terror under President Yahya Jammeh, which included draconian censorship, the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists, and newspaper editor Dayda Hydara’s unpunished murder.
Gambia is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.