Gambian Journalists use World Press Freedom Day to advocate for more media freedom


By Fatou Dahaba

On World Press Freedom Day, Gambian journalists renew calls for increased media freedom. The latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report shows Gambia dropping 12 spots to 58th globally and five spots to 10th in Africa in the global press freedom index.

At the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, organized by Freedom House and held at Sunset Hotel in Kotu, The Secretary General of The Gambia Press Union, Modou Joof, said that the reasons for the drop hinge on attacks on journalists, bad media laws, economic challenges, a lack of political will to ensure the safety of journalists and a lack of implementation of the Access to Information law. 

“We are still grappling with challenges of press freedom – from physical attacks on journalists to impunity and a lack of justice for dictatorship-era crimes against journalists.

We have witnessed in recent months direct threats to journalists and media houses from the current administration, which ignited calls on social media for attacks on individual journalists and media houses by political party militants affiliated with the ruling party.” 

The GPU SG said: “Journalists and media workers and human rights defenders have also faced arbitrary arrests by the police, detained incommunicado without access to family or lawyers with whereabouts unknown and in one instance, physically assaulted while in custody, and released with or without charges.”

On media law reform, Mr. Joof noted that criminal defamation no longer applies after the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional in 2018. Sedition laws will no longer apply once the Criminal Offences Bill 2020, which seeks to repeal the Criminal Code, is enacted.

“On the contrary, the Bill, which has been at the Committee Stage in Parliament since 2022, replicated the “False publication and broadcasting” law, another draconian provision in our law books,” he said.

“Contrary to commitments made on media law reforms, press freedom and freedom of expression, the Government is promulgating new laws like the Cybercrime Bill, 2023 with provisions aimed at restricting press freedom and freedom of expression targeted mainly at the media, human rights activists, opposition activists, and social media users.”

This year’s theme, “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis,” is meant to highlight the significant role journalism plays in informing and educating the people on how the current climate and biodiversity crisis are affecting the environment and ecosystems and the impact it has on the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world.  

The President of the Gambia Press Union, Muhammed S Bah, said Journalists are crucial in educating the public about the environmental crisis and holding governments and decision-makers accountable for their actions.

“We must recognize the bravery and dedication of journalists who risk their lives to uncover environmental injustices and bring them to light. In The Gambia, our media has been instrumental in exposing issues such as illegal logging, overfishing, and the trafficking of endangered species like rosewood.

As we move forward, let us continue to advocate for press freedom, media pluralism, and the protection of journalists’ rights. By working together, we can create an environment where the media can thrive, fulfill its constitutional mandate, and serve as a beacon of democracy and good governance.”

The Minister of Information, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to press freedom, which he said has been demonstrated by the passing of the Access to Information Law.

He said he was concerned when he woke up to the news that Gambia had dropped some points in the global press freedom index and was looking at factors responsible for the decline so that he could intervene.

“After knowing the problem, we will look at it in a multi-stakeholder meeting to find ways to address these issues and work together. We will work with GPU and other stakeholders to ensure Gambia is ranked 2 or 3 in Africa and 25 worldwide.”

Reiterating the significance of WPFD, the information minister pointed out the valuable role journalists play in fostering democracy, upholding human rights, and promoting transparency and accountability, noting without the media, there can’t be transparency and accountability.

Demba Kandeh, DCoP Freedom House, also stressed that there are hindrances to press freedom in the country even though the media is more vibrant now and has more outlets, journalists and ordinary people still face challenges accessing information.

“We must remain vigilant in defending and upholding the principles of a free press, and as a country, we cannot afford to go backward. We must consult our gains in democracy and ensure our journalists, the media, and ordinary citizens can do their work without fear of censorship, harassment, reprisal, and other forms of intimidation.

Every year, the 3rd of May is a day to remind governments and other stakeholders to respect their commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression. It’s a moment for media practitioners worldwide to reflect on their vital role in society and to stand in solidarity with those who face threats and violations.


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