According to The World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) for 2020, a tool evaluating the level of media freedom, the African country The Gambia occupies the 87 out of 180 places. Within the last five years, the country has made significant progress, having moved up 64 places.
The Gambia is a Western African country located on the Atlantic coast. It is Africa’s smallest non-island state but also one of the most densely populated on the continent, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, an online encyclopedia with information gathered by numerous contributors.
“Since dictator Yahya Jammeh’s departure in January 2017, the new president, Adama Barrow, has begun realizing his promise to create an environment that favors the media’s development,” comments Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an independent NGO working on the defense of media freedom around the world.
Immediate progress in media freedom has been marked since Barrow has come to power. For a period of just one year, from 2017 to 2018, The Gambia has moved up 21 places in the RSF’s WPFI. Then in 2019, the ranking has largely improved again, marking a 30 places up increase.
“Gambia’s media landscape has diversified since Jammeh’s departure. The country now has four dailies, a tri-weekly, 33 radio stations, six TV channels and many news websites,” writes RSF in an article from August 2020.
Freedom House, a nonprofit watchdog organization that seeks to expand freedom and democracy around the world, has researched The Gambia’s media situation too. In their Freedom in the World (FITW) 2020 report tracking global trends in freedom, they have described the changes that the African country has made.
“The environment for media has improved significantly under Barrow’s administration. More people are entering the profession, exiled journalists have returned to the country, and there has been a proliferation of new private outlets in the print, online, and radio and television sectors,” states the FITW report.
Freedom House categorizes countries as free, partly free, or not free. The Gambia is rated partly free in the FITW 2020 report, while in 2017, it was considered not free.
The change in political power is the main stimulus for the rapid improvement The Gambia has made regarding media freedom. The 22-year dictatorship had resulted in numerous violations against journalists.
“Laws passed since the mid-1990s have introduced harsh restrictions on the media, including expensive licensing fees, jail terms for journalists found guilty of libel or sedition, and hefty fines for individuals and organizations not in compliance with media-related rules and regulations. Many journalists have been harassed or arrested,” states Encyclopedia Britannica. These are all laws and violations against journalists that Jammeh had introduced and Barrow now works to address.
There have been some media freedom violations in 2019 and still “many challenges need to be addressed to improve press freedom in Gambia,” according to RSF. However, the African country is progressing towards more free and safe journalism.
Daria Naidenova is a sophomore student at AUBG majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and Business Administration. She is passionate about media and its state in countries around the world.