It is a day for media workers globally to reflect on issues of press freedom and professional ethics. The day is also set aside to support media that are oftentimes targets of violation and abuse.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights” signifies the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right from which all other human rights can be realised. In fact, a new UNESCO analysis of V-Dem data in 180 countries indicates a strong correlation between Freedom of Expression and the health of other human rights.
The UNESCO analysis shows that the countries with the highest levels of freedom of expression also enjoy a significantly higher level of protection of civil, political, economic and social rights, such as access to justice, a near absence of political killings and very low levels of exclusion across gender, socio-economic, urban-rural, political and social group indicators.
“Therefore, the GPU is urging The Gambia Government to make the realisation of freedom of expression and a free and independent press a top priority for Gambians to fully enjoy all other rights, including civil, political, economic and social rights,” GPU President Muhammed S. Bah said.
State of Press Freedom
In The Gambia, there have been significant improvements in press freedom and freedom of expression in recent years, after the country saw a 35-point improvement to rank 50th position out of 180 countries in 2022, according to Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The 2023 Index released today by RSF ranks The Gambia 46 out of 180 countries.
There has also been a proliferation of media houses, which means more people now have access to the media to express their opinions. The number of private radio stations has increased by almost 75% with 39 FM stations in operation, according to data from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), which is responsible for registration of broadcast media. Gambians now enjoy the luxury of watching multiple local television channels with five private television stations in operation, in addition to the national television. There are seven newspapers, nine community radio stations, and at least twenty online news media platforms.
“Despite this progress, there are still a significant number of press freedom and freedom of expression concerns, including the pending media law reforms, the physical attacks on journalists by mainly the police and political party activists, and the verbal attacks on journalists by politicians including the president of the republic,” GPU Secretary General Modou S. Joof said.
The Gambia Press Union therefore reiterates its call on the Gambia government, especially the executive and the legislature, to expedite the process of media law reforms. Proposed media law reforms promised six years ago are yet to be realised.
Though some media laws found in the Criminal Code have not been replicated in the Criminal Offences Bill, 2022 – there are still some problematic sections like false publication and broadcasting that are replicated. These laws have been recommended to be repealed by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which the government has accepted in its white paper.
“Apart from the slow progress in media law reforms, physical attacks on journalists since 2017 are committed with impunity. There absolutely is no accountability for crimes against journalists,” Joof said.
For example, out of the recorded five cases of intimidations, attacks, assaults, arrests, detentions and prosecution of journalists and civil society activists, the data from the GPU State of Freedom of Expression Report, 2021, shows that:
3 violations resulted in no legal action being taken against the violators; and
3 violations with no serious investigation carried out by the Police, with only an apology being proffered on behalf of the violators.
Since 2017, no one has ever been brought to book for any of the violations, and the climate of impunity for crimes against journalist persists.
“The GPU wishes to remind the government that it is the responsibility of the state to guarantee journalists’ safety and combat impunity and enable the media to carry out its work independently and without interference,” Bah said.
Upcoming local elections
As the mayoral elections enters the nominations and campaign periods, we urged all political parties, their leaders and followers, to refrain from both physical and verbal attacks on journalists, and from any act of intimidation towards journalists. Political party leaders have a responsibility to ensure that journalists covering their events (press conferences and political rallies) are safe and free to do their work without fear or favour, affection or ill will.
We are also urging the police to refrain from assaulting journalists before, during and after the elections, and political party leaders and government officials to refrain from making statements against journalists or the media that are likely to fan violence against journalists.
In the same vein, we are urging journalists to remain apolitical in their coverage of the election process and to strictly adhere to the Cherno Jallow Charter of Ethics for Journalists (the industrywide code of conduct for journalists) and the Rules for Election Coverage by the Independent Electoral Commission.
Finally, in commemoration of this World Press Freedom Day, we wish to pay tribute to the fallen heroes of the Gambian media. These are those who sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for the freedom and development of Gambian media in particular, and an inclusive and democratic Gambia based on respect for human rights and dignity.