The President of the tiny West African state of The Gambia has started 2014 with a surprise gift to his country’s snivelling media fraternity. In a news release issued on New Year eve, Office of the President announced that the ban on two privately owned media houses has been lifted with immediate effect. “The two media houses are re-open as mark of goodwill for the New Year, 2014,” the release added.
For many, the lifting of ban on the media houses comes as a surprise, especially when Jammeh has repeatedly vowed that he will not yield to any form of pressure, particularly from western powers. However, last year the European Union “temporarily” halted funding to the tune of 10 million Euros for Gambia amid reports about the country’s worsening human rights situation. In January 2013, the Gambia government decided to boycott dialogue with EU under Article 8 Intensified Political dialogue which aims to strengthen partnership between the two parties, enabling the EU to play its role in supporting change and development in The Gambia more effectively. The boycott followed President Jammeh’s anger over a controversial 17-point governance and human rights reforms demanded by the EU. The talks resumed in July 2013 following an audience that the EU managing director for Africa, Nicholas Westcott, had with President Jammeh on 8 July 2013.
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.
Whatever may have prompted Jammeh’s gift to the media, what is clear is that he needs to do more. The Daily News also arbitrarily closed around the same period should be re-opened unconditionally. There is absolute need to completely change the current media laws and introduce more vibrant and press friendly regulations such as Freedom to Access Information law. Thus, it is “common sense” to use one of Jammeh’s “favourite” phrases to conclude that his gift is not enough.