For the first time in close to two decades, Gambia has jumped 22 spots, the biggest progress recorded on the latest World Press Freedom Index in Africa, released by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday.
Gambia jumped 22 spots to reach number 122. RSF noted that the media situation has greatly improved since the end of ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year-rule.
However, Gambia remains 72 places behind its neighbours Senegal that scores 50 in the world ranking. Analysts said the country could have done even better if the draconian media laws that are still in the statute books have been repealed.
Though Gambia government has accepted to reform the media laws in the country, Barrow administration is currently in court with the Gambia Press Union fighting to keep False News in the statute books.
Generally, the situation of press freedom on the continent of Africa improved compared to last year’s Index, although RSF noted there was a wide variation between the countries.
“No journalist has been arrested, detained and prosecuted since the new Government came into office. There was an incident on physical attack on a journalist, but it was quickly addressed as the minister whose party supporters were involved apologized publicly… The past few months have a proliferation in the newspaper industry. Three new newspapers have been registered and have since hit the newsstands. Two TV licences have been issued for private TV broadcasting, ending the monopoly of the state-owned TV,” Saikou Jammeh, secretary general of the Gambia Press Union has told Kerr Fatou.
However, Jammeh added: “There has so far been no repeal or amendment of any piece of the huge haul of laws that restrict freedom of expression. Laws on sedition, criminal defamation, false news and broadcasting, false publication on the internet and giving false information to a public officer are still alive. Even though the government declared some of them redundant, their mere existence in the law books strengthens the already residual fear over their application.”
But Jammeh said the GPU remain at the mere fact that the draconian media laws are still in the statute books.
At the bottom of the index is Eastern African countries like Eritrea at 179, Ethiopia at 150 and Djibouti at 173.
The index regrets deterioration of press freedom which includes massive arrests of investigative journalists.
‘‘The climate of hatred is steadily more visible in the Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year. Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (down two at 157th) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned’‘, it said.
In North Africa, it is difficult to be a journalist. The coverage of the social protest movement in Morocco, highlighted the difficulties journalists face with arrests and assassinations.
In Tunisia, for example, Reporters without borders denounced a draft law that prevents the independence of this fourth estate of the realm. According to index, all these practices observed in this region demonstrate the clear will of leaders to control the media and hunt down journalists who attack issues of corruption, tax evasion, influence peddlers or cover demonstrations.
Elsewhere, France placed 33, United Kingdom 41 and the United States 45.
By Mustapha K Darboe