OPINION: Freedom of the Press Under President Adama Barrow – August 2018

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT, reviewed by Babara Eze

1. Context

When Gambian President, Adama Barrow secured the services of exiled journalist Demba A. Jawo as Information Minister, he rekindled hopes that he had the political will and the right man in place to champion press freedom in The Gambia. Earlier in August 2018, The Gambia’s State House released a statement highlighting US research institute, Freedom House’s report that “freedom in The Gambia has seen remarkable improvement compared to what used to obtain a few years ago”. This indicates that progress on freedom of the press since President Barrow came into power following a political impasse in the aftermath the historic December 2016 elections. This article provides a comprehensive review of how much progress has been made?

Under a coalition ticket, President Barrow’s mandate was to usher in reforms and create a level playing field. This article focuses on the state of freedom of the press in The Gambia. Has President Barrow managed to repeal and reform laws that Yahya Jammeh used to suppress Gambian voices? Almost two years on, what reforms has President Barrow implemented to improve the democratic space for freedom of the press? This is our bone of contention in this two part series. This article focuses on The Gambia’s Press Freedom during President Barrow’s 18 months reign.

 2. Freedom of the Press post Jammeh

The Gambian media was under sustained attack during Yahya Jammeh’s 22 year iron fisted rule. After casting his ballot in Gambia’s 2011 Presidential elections, then President Jammeh, assured of his imminent victory, retorted in true dictator style “They talk about rights, human rights, and freedom of the press, and [say that] this country is a hell for journalists. There are freedoms and responsibilities. The journalists are less than 1 percent of the population, and if anybody expects me to allow less than 1 percent of the population to destroy 99 percent of the population, you are in the wrong place.” The previous regime employed countless methods to suppress the media such as the brutal murder of Deyda Hydara, savage arson attacks on media outlets and more sophisticated tax fraud charges. 

In contrast the early months of President Barrow’s rule has seen multiple media houses establish themselves in the country, finally providing residents with an alternative to Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), previously the only Gambian TV station serving 2 million people. With this unfair monopoly giving the incumbent unrivalled favourable coverage, Jammeh reduced the state broadcaster to a propaganda tool. In today’s New Gambia, media houses such as QTV, EyeAfrica TV, Paradise TV and Fatu Network have now become household names using a mixture of live broadcasts, social media and YouTube to engage their viewers. Numerous exiled journalists have returned and some have established media houses well known for opposing Yahya Jammeh. This is a positive sign that the incumbent is willing to entertain diverging opinions.

Putting their money where their mouths are, the Gambian government partially compensated the families of two murdered journalists, Chief Ebrima Manneh and veteran Deyda Hydara. However, back in March 2017, Foroyaa journalist, Kebba Jeffang was attacked at a press conference convened by three political parties: NRP, UPD and GMC. All three parties were headed by government ministers at the time and were present during the attack. Soon after the government apologised for the attack on the journalist who reports for Foroyaa newspaper, widely recognised as the mouthpiece of Gambian opposition party, PDOIS.