Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite a 1997 constitution that, in theory, guarantees freedom of expression, President Yahya Jammeh maintained an iron grip on the media that tightened ahead of elections planned for 2006. At the end of 2004, the Parliament passed two bills intended to impose harsh penalties on the media, including mandatory prison sentences of at least six months, for media owners or journalists convicted of publishing or broadcasting defamatory or seditious material or "false news." Jammeh signed these bills into law at the end of 2005. In December, the Parliament disbanded the media commission that for the past several years has regulated the media and been closely controlled by the government. Nonetheless, the following day the Parliament added to the mound of oppressive media laws by passing two additional gag laws making all press offenses punishable by imprisonment.
The Gambia's history of raids, harassment, detentions, and exorbitant licensing fees has created a tense media environment that causes many journalists to practice self-censorship and others to flee the country. Alagi Yorro Jallow, managing editor of The Independent newspaper, left the country in December 2004 after threats had been made against him and remained abroad at year's end, as did several other journalists. Nonetheless, there were no reported cases of journalists being killed, attacked, or injured during 2005. The 2004 murder of Deyda Hydara, managing editor of the private weekly The Point and a correspondent for both Reporters Sans Frontieres and Agence France-Presse, remained unsolved and virtually uninvestigated one year on. In 2005, the National Intelligence Agency took over the investigation from the police and released a report that attempted to smear the reputation of Hydara and his family. Police also barred journalists from gathering at the site of the murder to mark the anniversary of his death. Musa Saidykhan, editor of The Independent, was detained and interrogated for raising questions about the unsolved murder. In October, the Gambian branch of the Senegalese private broadcasting station Sud FM was shut down under accusations of "inciting trouble" between The Gambia and Senegal. The shutdown followed coverage of border trade disputes between the two countries, and Sud FM remained closed at year's end.
The government owns a daily newspaper, a national radio station, and the only national television station. Political news coverage at these outlets favors the official line. The few privately owned newspapers and radio stations that provide independent or opposition views have been subject to considerable pressure and could operate only sporadically during the year. Access to foreign publications and broadcasts is available, and the internet remains unrestricted by the government, though only 3.3 percent of the population was able to gain access in 2005.