Following the end of the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, journalists in The Gambia are beginning to enjoy press freedoms for the first time in 22 years.
During the two decades of ex-President Jammeh’s rule, journalists were regularly abducted, tortured and killed. The new government has pledged to respect the media.
Outdated sedition laws are still on the books, however, and the public is urged to bring any complaints about journalists to the new Media Council of The Gambia instead of to the courts.
Saikou Jammeh, the secretary-general of the Gambia Press Union, which oversees the new body said there is a need to promote higher professional standards.
“We also set it up to keep the government far away from any attempts to regulate the media,” he said. “It’s not their business and it shouldn’t be their business.”
Under the former regime, many journalists “had to switch on survival mode and they would not publish anything that would get them in trouble,” Jammeh said. “The relationship of the media and the public was characterized by paranoia and mistrust.”
Since the election win of President Adama Barrow in December 2016, new TV stations have opened and online newspapers are publishing investigations and criticism of alleged government mismanagement.
The Gambia Press Union’s president, Sheriff Bojang Jr., pointed to headlines that would have been “suicidal during (Yahya) Jammeh’s time,” but said the greatest change could be heard on radio talk shows, “where on a daily basis people are blasting the (current) regime.”
The new government has promised support.
“We will work with you in this difficult journey,” Gambia’s information minister, Ebrima Sillah, recently told journalists, vowing the government would do what it takes for media to “continue to operate without restrictions.”
At least 30 journalists have returned to the country after more than 100 fled the previous regime, according to Reporters Without Borders, although it said a couple have faced violence upon their return from supporters of the previous government.
Meanwhile, the ex-president is reportedly hiding out in nearby Equatorial Guinea, where he has been offered protection from prosecution by President Teodoro Obiang.
Source via Global Information Network