People hold placards reading "Gambia made its choice, save democracy in Gambia, save the new Gambia" during a protest in support of Gambia by Senegalese NGOs and civil rights groups in Dakar on December 17, 2017.
Longtime Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, who initially conceded defeat in a December 1 presidential poll, has lodged a Supreme Court case to challenge the result, despite pressure from the international community for him to cede power peacefully. The opposition in the small West African country, however, fears Jammeh will use a judicial system -- considered by experts to lack independence -- to give legitimacy to his attempt to hang on to power. / AFP / SEYLLOU        (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Colonial laws hurting Gambia’s press freedom

Colonial laws meant to control information and subdue citizens used by ex-President Yahya Jammeh continues to flourish in the small country, pushing journalists into self-censorship.

Gambia’s new government, however, has conceded that laws such as sedition are unconstitutional and as part of its media reform program, will get rid of them.

But some laws will continue to remain intact. This coupled with the attitude of politicians and especially, their proxies towards journalists can see many newsrooms being forced into self-suppression.

While colonial governments used these laws to protect itself to exploit Gambians, sending to exile journalists like Edward Francis Small, it is important to forewarn that it will be disappointing for Gambians to attempt maintaining any part of a law that seeks to silence the press.

Our leaders for nearly have a century have used these anti-press colonial laws, which were passed to us intact by Great Britain to force the media to report only the government version of events are true while painting the opposition as unpatriotic citizens.

Under ex-President Jammeh, authorities stifle media freedom through a combination of criminal prosecutions, physical intimidation, censorship, and the promotion of government views in state-run or friendly private outlets.

Journalists were frequently arrested and detained on flimsy and superficial charges using these draconian laws, many getting charged with giving false news for reporting on matters not favorable to the rulers.

The Gambia is in a better place, the new government said it will reverse an amendment that seeks to see journalists sent to jail or face hefty fines.

But, in order to make progress on our new found democracy and freedom, we must rid our law books that were meant to support the exploitation of our people by those in power, while the media practice responsible journalism.

In all, one thing is clear, that with technology the press can no longer be bullied into silence. No matter how long it takes, the people will come to separate the truth from propaganda.

Gambian journalists have survived one of Africa’s most brutal dictatorship under Jammeh and so they will any other that comes after him.

But at this moment, the new government has been open to the press and even the president, Adama Barrow does not shy away from the media. He has called them partners in development.

That partnership is what should be used to extinguish laws that make journalists look like criminals and enemies of the state for simply doing their work.

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