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)
Conditions for media practice in The Gambia worsened in 2006 as President Yahya Jammeh swept into office for a third consecutive five-year term following elections in September 2006. Media practitioners were already operating under severe constraints ahead of national elections as Jammeh maintained an iron grip on the media despite a 1997 constitution that, in theory, guarantees freedom of expression. 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. Following dissolution of a government-controlled media commission by Parliament in 2005, additional oppressive gag laws were passed making all press offenses punishable by imprisonment.
Jammeh’s electoral victory did not signal the likelihood that he was willing to make any concessions for relaxing the restrictive media environment, his inauguration taking place on the second anniversary of the still unsolved murder of journalist Deyda Hydara. At the time of his murder, Hydara was managing editor of the private weekly The Point and a correspondent for both Reporters Sans Frontieres and Agence France-Presse. Asked about press freedom at a news conference following his election victory, Jammeh responded that the whole world could “go to hell,” that he could ban any newspaper he wished to “with good reason,” and that he wanted to rule The Gambia for at least three more decades. Jammeh showed in 2006 that his disdain for press freedom was backed by continuing intimidation, imprisonment, and exile of journalists and political opponents. Ten journalists were arrested in 2006, and many others fled into exile, joining those such as editor Alagi Yorrow Jallow, who, fearing reprisals, remained abroad. Prominent cases include those of Malick Mbob, a journalist of the pro-government Daily Observer who was detained illegally by the National Intelligence Agency for 139 days and then fired from his job after his release. He was one of five journalists arrested for sending damaging information to a U.S.-based online publication, Freedom Newspaper. Another reporter employed by the state-owned Gambia Radio Television Services, Doudou Sanneh, was freed and then fired after one week’s detention by the National Intelligence Agency.
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. In the period leading up to the presidential election, the government did provide time slots for opposition candidates on the national television station, although the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party received the most coverage. The Gambia has three private newspapers that publish biweekly or thrice weekly and four private FM radio stations. These outlets are subject to considerable pressure from the government, and faced considerable difficulty operating in 2006, but provide occasional critical coverage of the administration. A premium television network operates as a satellite station. The internet is not as tightly regulated, and over 3 percent of the population was able to access this growing medium in 2006, representing one of the highest rates of internet access in West Africa.