The Gambia has come a long way and finally is beginning to improve its journalism and media situation.
Six years ago, in 2013, the country was ranked 152 out of 180 countries according to rsf.org, an online database that provides information about the level of freedom of the press in different countries. Now, the Gambia is 122 and is known for the world’s biggest rise in the 2018 index at rsf.org. Its score at freedomhouse.org, a website of an independent organization aimed to expand freedom and democracy globally and that also aggregates the freedom score, is 45 out of 100.
Tyranny, injustice and threat were brought by the former President Yahya Jammeh to the Gambian journalism. Giving direct orders to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), he ordered the closure of a commercial radio station and two independent newspapers, The Standard and Daily News, for refusing to stop broadcasting daily reviews and publishing content that criticized his decision to carry out executions in Gambia for the first time since 1981.
Not only the certain publications were the reason for Jammeh to close organizations and newspapers. A peaceful demonstration, initiated by the Daily News worker, Baboucarr Ceesay and freelancer Abubaccar Saidykhan, led to their arrest for conspiracy and violence. Foreign journalists were also the target and could not properly enter the country, with some of them being threatened by the President. Pape Alé Niang, a journalist from Senegal, said on Radio Liberté that “Gambians need to deal with their problems.” — later, Jammeh threatened him with death if he tries to report anything in Gambia.
In addition to Jammeh’s activity, the law amendments, which were proposed by former information and communication minister Nana Grey-Johnson in 2013, have enhanced the effect of 2009 Information and Communications Act — the law that limits the freedom of the press and information in Gambia. The amendments let the government punish people for spreading false information against the government or public officials by sentencing them to up to 15 years in prison or making them pay a fine of 3 million dalasis (64,000 euros).
After Jammeh was ousted in January 2017, the situation started getting better. Namely, the new government gave commitment to media freedom and the new information and communication minister, Demba Ali Jawo, was forecasting good changes. Jawo delivered his comments on 3 May, the World Press Freedom Day, an event that had not been celebrated in Gambia since 1997. He mentioned the victims of the former regime, Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh and many other journalists who had been mistreated and were subjected to torture. The new minister’s statements were well accepted by Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. Kahn-Sriber expressed readiness to support Jawo’s initiatives.
Kamila Ilimbayeva is a second-year student of the American University in Bulgaria, studying journalism and practicing skills in the field of reporting and writing news articles.