By Binta A. Bah
Amid continuing human rights violations in The Gambia, local journalists in the tiny West African nation say they wouldn’t be surprised if their country is ranked poorly in a proposed 2014 freedom of expression index.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) announced in March that it will from 2014 launch a West Africa Freedom of Expression Index that will “name and shame” countries with bad conditions of free expression.
The Accra-based agency, which promotes and defend free press and free expression in the sub-region, says the annual index to be published in partnership with the US-based freedom of expression (FoE) advocacy orga
nisation, Freedom House, will serve as “a way of putting pressure on governments to reform”.
However, local journalists in Banjul say The Gambia is expected to perform “poorly” amid increased violations of freedoms.
“The Gambia has previously performed very badly in terms of press freedom and free expression,” Lamin Jahateh, publisher and editor of Gambia News Online noted. “This country must take remarkable reforms to better her image regionally and globally regarding fundamental freedoms.”
“This rating will be based on an in-depth assessment of each country’s conditions of press freedom, internet freedom, freedom of association and assembly, religious freedom, artistic freedom, among others,” MFWA’s executive director Prof Kwami Karikari explains.
The Gambia and 15 West African countries will be rated in the index meant “to further create awareness about freedom of expression situations” in the sub-regional economic bloc, ECOWAS.
“Bearing in mind the recent crackdown on journalists, outspoken Muslim clerics and the closure of media houses, The Gambia is not expected to make good gains in any free expression index,” says Modou S. Joof, President of the Young Journalists Association of The Gambia (YJAG).
But, Joof, who is also the editor and publisher of The North Bank Evening Standard believe “the current situation can be bettered in the future if the gove
rnment were to set in motion radical reforms today”.
Such “radical reforms”, according to Demba Kandeh, must include the repeal of media laws considered draconian and the formulation and implementation of a freedom of access to information law (FoI).
The publisher and editor of The Gambia News Waves said: “Making use of the Model Access to Information Law recently adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be a good start.”
At that meeting, the experts also identified and discussed the specific indicators and weighting system to be used in rating the 16 West African countries.