The government of the Gambia has lifted the ban on two media houses, The Standard newspaper and Teranga FM radio. In a news release aired on state media, the Office of the President said: “The two media houses are re-open as mark of goodwill for the New Year, 2014”. Teranga FM was closed on 14th August 2012, following a raid on its office by plain cloth officers believed to be members of the notorious secret police, National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Similarly, The Standard and Daily News newspapers all privately owned media houses were arbitrarily closed, without any court order exactly a month later, 14th September 2012. There was no mention of the Daily News in the release.
The media houses can resume operations in earnest but they still have to work in accordance with the draconian media laws in the country.
It is not clear what the effects of the re-opening of these media houses will have but for many, it is a move in the right direction. “The long awaited lifting of the government’s ban on the Tarenga FM and Standard Newspaper has brought joy to the media fraternity. I called it the media’s New Year Present. While looking forward for more of such gestures in 2014, I commend the government for the good move,” a young journalist posted his Facebook wall.
President Jammeh came to power in July 1994 following a military coup that ousted independence leader, Dawda Kairaba Jawara. The Gambia media environment is marred by harassment and intimidation of all kind, resulting in self-censorship for many. Many journalists have fled the country mostly for their safety and are now based abroad. Hashed media laws coupled with the brutal practice of the Gambian authorities make it impossible for a professional and independent press to exist in the Gambia. The government controls the state media and private media struggles against stringent restrictions and intimidation.
Gambian constitution states: “The press and other information media shall at all times be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of The Gambia.” But this is far from practice and the press, particularly the private press is deeply muzzled in the Smiling Coast of Africa.