Article19, an international organisation concerned with freedom of expression and media freedom has described the laws governing the Gambian media as “fundamentally flawed and incompatible with The Gambia’s obligations under international and regional standards on freedom of expression.”Fatou Jagne-Senghore
ARTICLE 19’s new report finds fundamental flaws in the legislation that are incompatible with The Gambia’s obligations under international and regional standards on freedom of expression.
In a twenty-two paged document entitled “The Gambia: Analysis of Selected Laws on Media”, Article19 outlined its key concerns regarding the constitutional protection of freedom of expression, the Newspaper Act 1944 (as subsequently amended); Sections 52, 178 and 181A of the Gambian Criminal Code; and the Information and the Communications Act 2009.
“The most problematic features of these laws include: the registration requirements for newspapers under the Newspaper Act 1944; a number of speech-related offences (including seditious libel, criminal defamation, and publication of false news) in the Criminal Code is a clear breach of international standards for the protection of freedom of expression; and the fact that the regulation of broadcasting is ultimately entrusted to the executive rather than an independent body, as required under international law. In addition, the Information and Communications Act 2009 contains a number of overly broad provisions in relation to intercept (section 138) and the publication of information which is obscene in electronic form (section 170).” Noted the document released on Wednesday 18th April 2012.
However Article 19’s criticism of the state of freedom of expression in The Gambia is not limited to the legislation reviewed in this analysis. “We remain concerned about the continuous violations of the right to freedom of expression in the country, in particular the lack of media independence as well as continuous harassment, arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition,” it noted adding that these serious violations should be urgently addressed by the Gambian Government.
“The Gambia is at odds with all its international commitments on free expression,” said Fatou Jagne Senghore, ARTICLE 19 Regional Representative for West Africa. “People need space to speak out and contribute without fear to the public debate and the media will only be able to play its critical role if the legal and physical security of journalists and human rights defenders is adequately guaranteed,” she added.
Over the past ten years, the legal framework regulating the media and free speech in the Gambia has been reviewed several times to tighten permitted expression and reduce the ability of the media and human rights defenders to conduct critical reporting and speak out. The new analysis has key recommendations regarding the legal media framework in the Gambia. Among them are the following:
1. Engage in comprehensive review of the Gambian legislative framework related to freedom of expression, especially the laws applicable to the media;
2. Repeal the Newspaper Act 1944 and subsequent amendments in their entirety;
3. Repeal the provisions of the Criminal Code that unduly restrict freedom of expression in the Gambia, in particular Section 52 (seditious publication), Section 178 (criminal defamation), and Section 181A (dissemination of false news);
4. Bring the Information and Communications Act 2009 in line with international standards on freedom of expression, and in particular provide for independence of the telecommunications and broadcasting regulator.