Freedom of the Press 2008 - The Gambia
|Publication Date||29 April 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - The Gambia, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f60428.html [accessed 23 December 2014]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 25 (of 30)
Political Environment: 34 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 20 (of 30)
Total Score: 79 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The Gambia followed its deplorable record of press freedom in 2006 with aggressive intimidation of media practitioners in 2007. New cases of flagrant disregard of constitutional guarantees for free expression were coupled with imprisonment, intimidation, and other extralegal measures that further chilled the climate for media practice. Recent prominent legal cases include that of the U.S.-based journalist and political commentator, Fatou Jaw Manneh, who was arrested 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 defunct bi-weekly, The Independent, in which she strongly criticized the government, calling President Jammeh "a bundle of terror" and an "egoistic, frosty imam." She was released after a week on bail but prohibited from leaving the country. Other similar cases include the conviction of Lamin Fatty, a journalist for the The Independent, who was fined $2,500 for a story about a 2006 coup plot. In September, Malick Jones and Mam Sait Ceesay, two workers of the state-owned TV and radio service, were re-arrested shortly after a court freed them after they paid a $8,970 fine. They were charged with harming the security of the state by giving "false" information to a foreign journalist. In October, two Amnesty International journalists and a local reporter were arrested and detained for three days, accused of spying. The local reporter, Yahya Dampha of the Foroyaa newspaper, later went into hiding following a raid on his house by state security agents.
The pace of persecution of media practitioners has quickened since President Jammeh began a third consecutive five-year term following elections in September 2006. Since then, new measures were passed imposing harsh penalties, including mandatory prison sentences for sedition or "false news." A media commission to police media practice was also established. These moves, and the regular harassment of independent reporters has led to wide-spread self-censorship. The 'disappearance' of Chief Ebrimah Manneh, State House correspondent for the state-owned Daily Observer who had been missing for 18 months at the end of 2007, remained unresolved. He was arrested by state security agents in 2006 over allegations that he passed damaging information to a foreign journalist who wrote an article critical of the regime prior to an African Union Summit in Banjul. Chief Manneh was later spotted briefly at several prisons and hospitals after his disappearance. The Media Foundation of West Africa filed suit before the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States in Nigeria seeking Chief Manneh's release from detention and compensation. The Gambian authorities have so far refused to cooperate and Manneh is now feared dead. Other reports of journalists going into hiding, being physically intimidated, or arbitrarily arrested are too numerous to name. The murder of journalist Deyda Hydara remains unsolved after three years. Hydara was managing editor of the private weekly The Point 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 favors the official line. The Gambia has three private newspapers that publish biweekly or thrice weekly and four private FM radio stations. The private outlets were subjected to further pressure from publishing criticism of government and public officials in 2007. A premium television network operates as a satellite station. Internet usage is growing, rising to 4.9 percent of the population, one of the highest rates in West Africa. Although the government denies it, two US-based websites – Freedom Newspaper and All Gambian – were blocked within The Gambia in June. According to journalists working for the two sites the blockage was linked to their critical reporter about the Gambian government.