Freedom of the Press
You are here
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 press continued to operate under enormous strains in 2009 due to legal and extralegal intimidation of journalists and media outlets, as well as complete impunity for past abuses.
- Article 34 of the constitution provides for freedoms of the press and of expression, but the government does not respect these rights in practice. Constitutional protections are undermined by other legislation, primarily the Newspaper Amendment Act and a 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. These provisions have given the authorities great discretion in silencing dissent.
- A revised 2005 Press Law guarantees the right of citizens to obtain information and prohibits censorship. However, there are broad restrictions on any content that is “contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.”
- Media outlets are occasionally fined or warned for broadcasting “un-Islamic material,” resulting in self-censorship and the arrest of journalists.
- The authorities have yet to solve the 2004 assassination of journalist and press freedom activist Deyda Hydara, managing editor of the Point newspaper and a correspondent for both Reporters Without Borders and Agence France-Presse. Investigations into the Hydara case have stalled since early 2005 following a leaked “confidential intelligence report” that smeared Hydara. The whereabouts of another journalist, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, have remained unknown since he was arrested in 2006 for publishing a report that was critical of President Yahya Jammeh in the privately owned Daily Observer newspaper.
- In 2008, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria ordered the Gambian government to release Manneh, but officials denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. In April 2009, the Gambian attorney general and justice minister formally rejected the decision of the ECOWAS court, asserting that Manneh was not in government custody.
- In February 2009, Pap Saine, editor of the Point, was arrested and indicted for allegedly publishing false information in a January article about a diplomatic reshuffle at the Gambian embassy in Washington, DC. Saine was arrested again in March for allegedly falsifying citizenship documents, though all charges against him were subsequently dropped.
- Seven journalists were arrested in June for republishing a statement by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) that had criticized Jammeh’s comments during a televised interview about the Hydara case. One of the seven was released for lack of evidence in July, and in August the remaining six were convicted of sedition and sentenced to two-year prison terms and fines of approximately US$10,000 each. The journalists—Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh of the Point; Sam Sarr of the Foroyaa newspaper; and Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Emil Touray, and Pa Modou Faal of the GPU—were then released and pardoned by the president in September.
- Also in September, Jammeh threatened “troublemakers,” including those who cooperate with human rights organizations, with death if they tried to “destabilize” the country.
- Several journalists went into hiding during the year out of fear of government retaliation. A number of others remained in exile.
- The government owns the Gambia 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 eight private newspapers and nine private radio stations. While many are subject to official pressure, the private media continued to criticize the government and cover opposition viewpoints in 2009. However, most businesses avoid advertising with them for fear of government reprisals. A premium television network operates as a satellite station.
- Foreign news was rebroadcast on several local radio stations. The government did not interfere with access to foreign cable or satellite television news broadcasts, which were generally available to most citizens.
- About 7.6 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2009. Since its launch in 2006, Freedom Newspaper, an online news site that is often critical of the government, has periodically been blocked by the authorities.