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)
The Gambia’s poor record on press freedom worsened during 2007 owing to legal and extralegal intimidation of journalists and media outlets, as well as complete impunity in past cases of press freedom abuse. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but the government does not respect it in practice. Constitutional guarantees are undermined by other pieces of legislation, primarily the Newspaper Amendment Act and the criminal code amendment, both passed in 2004. The latter established the publication of “false information” as an offense carrying stiff penalties, and mandated harsh punishments for sedition and libel. Lamin Fatty, a journalist for the defunct biweekly the Independent who had been held in incommunicado detention for two months during 2006, was the first to be convicted under this legislation. He was found guilty of a criminal offense and fined US$1,850 for a mistaken detail in an article about a 2006 coup plot for which the paper subsequently apologized. In another case of legal intimidation, in March, the U.S.-based journalist and political commentator Fatou Jaw Manneh was arrested at the airport as she returned to The Gambia for her father’s funeral. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Manneh was charged with sedition for a 2004 interview published in the Independent, in which she strongly criticized the government, calling President Yahya Jammeh “a bundle of terror” and an “egoistic, frosty imam.” She was released after a week on bail but was prohibited from leaving the country. In September 2007, Mam Sait Ceesay, former editor in chief of a progovernment newspaper, and Malick Jones, employee of a state-owned radio and television service, were arrested and charged with “passing information to a foreign journalist.” The two were imprisoned for several days until they were able to post bail of as much as US$9,500; the case was subsequently suspended and remained so until year’s end.
Violence and extralegal intimidation against journalists continued to be an issue in 2007. Chief Ebrimah Manneh, correspondent for the state-owned Daily Observer, remained missing throughout the year following his arrest in July 2006 by security agents. He was reportedly detained over allegations of passing damaging information to a foreign journalist who wrote an article criticizing the regime prior to the 2006 African Union summit in Banjul. Manneh was spotted briefly at several prisons and hospitals after his disappearance. The Media Foundation of West Africa filed suit in the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States in Nigeria, seeking Manneh’s release from detention and compensation. Nevertheless, in September, the International Federation of Journalists expressed fears that Manneh may have died in custody. In another incident in October 2007, two Amnesty International researchers and a local reporter were arrested and detained for three days, accused of spying. Following a raid on his house by state security agents, local journalist Yahya Dampha of the newspaper Foroyaa went into hiding. As a result of such legal and extralegal intimidation, many journalists practice self-censorship, while a number of others have fled the country and remain in exile. Impunity for past abuses continued to be an issue during the year, as the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara remains unsolved after three years. Hydara had been managing editor of the Point private weekly and a correspondent for both Reporters Sans Frontieres and Agence France-Presse.
The government owns a daily newspaper, a national radio station, and the only national television station. Political news coverage at these outlets generally toes the official line. The Gambia has three private newspapers that publish biweekly or thrice weekly and four private FM radio stations. Many of these private entities are subject to official pressure for publishing criticism of the government and public officials, while most businesses avoid advertising with them for fear of government reprisals. A premium television network operates as a satellite station. Internet usage in 2007 increased to 4.9 percent of the population, one of the highest rates in West Africa. Although the government denies it, two U.S.-based websites—Freedom Newspaper and All Gambian—were blocked within The Gambia in June. According to journalists working for the two sites, the blocking was linked to their critical reporting about the government.