“We’re ready to help The Gambia do more to promote journalism,” RSF tells Barrow

A Reporters Without Borders (RSF) delegation led by secretary-general Christophe Deloire met with The Gambia’s president, Adama Barrow, at his home on 28 November, hailing the extraordinary progress his country has made with regard to press freedom but stressing that more must be done to promote both press freedom and quality journalism.

Gambian information minister Lamin Queen Jammeh attended the hour-long meeting, which took place in Mankamang Kunda, the village where the president Adama Barrow was born, located 300 km east of the Atlantic coast capital, Banjul. As well as its secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, RSF was represented by Sadibou Marong, the director of its Dakar-based Africa bureau, and Pap Saine, the dean of the Gambian press, who has been RSF’s correspondent since the murder of his predecessor, Deyda Hydara, in December 2004.

The RSF delegation lauded The Gambia's unparalleled rise in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index. Since dictator Yahya Jammeh’s ouster and replacement by Adama Barrow in 2017, the country’s ranking has gone from 143rd to 50th, the eighth highest in Africa. Three journalists were killed and many others were jailed or forced into exile during the Jammeh era, but journalists now enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom.

What needs improving

Nonetheless, much remains to be done. As the new constitution has yet to be adopted, the constitutional guarantees for press freedom have not yet come into force. The draconian laws inherited from the Jammeh era, which include provision for prison sentences for the vaguely defined crime of “sedition,” have not yet been repealed. The 2021 access to information act is a positive development but it has not yet been implemented. At the same time, the state is slow to pay for the ads that it places in the media, which weakens them economically.

As well as recommending implementation of all of these reforms, RSF said everything must be done to bring the instigators and perpetrators of the murders of the three journalists to justice. The driver of the team that shot Deyda Hydara is currently on trial in Germany, but those who actually shot him have been released in The Gambia. As for Yahya Jammeh, he continues to enjoy the refuge he was given in Equatorial Guinea. 

“Obtaining his extradition to The Gambia or to a third country for trial is imperative in order to send a strong signal,” Christophe Deloire said.

Deploring “a certain lack of professional coverage” and journalists’ “negative” bias against him, President Barrow said “RSF must act as a referee”. RSF responded with a proposal based on the principles of free speech and journalism, combining press freedom on the one hand, with journalistic ethics and practices on the other, allowing The Gambia to begin moving ahead now with better implementation of both the rights and duties of journalists at the same time. 

RSF said it could help The Gambia to promote quality, freely reported, independent and reliable journalism, including through the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), a self-regulatory solution that has been developed at the international level.

RSF’s secretary-general, who also chairs the Forum on Information and Democracy, urged The Gambia to join the Partnership on Information and Democracy, an inter-governmental partnership initiated by RSF, which 50 countries have now joined. After the United States and Uruguay in September, and Albania and Niger in November, The Gambia is now invited to join this coalition of governments that aims to establish democratic safeguards in the digital domain.

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