Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – Journalists around the world including the Gambia are today celebrating World Press Freedom Day.

The day is set aside by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

To mark the day, Alagi Yorro Jallow, former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the previous regime of President Yahya Jammeh in 2005 has called on the new Gambian regime to repeal draconian press laws that are inimical press freedom and end the public demonization of critical journalists in the West African nation.

In his World Freedom message, Mr Jallow, a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013, wrote:

On this World Press Freedom Day, citizens of the world pay tribute to those journalists who have lost their lives and are unjustly imprisoned while following their passion to expose the truth. In a country where we are free to express ourselves and our thoughts, we must remember that this fundamental human right isn’t guaranteed to all.

Freedom of the press is a prerequisite for any flourishing democracy. The free flow of information and access to uncensored material serves as a check against censorship by the government. By nurturing and protecting this fundamental right, free peoples achieve democratic improvements in their societies.

Unfortunately, all around the world there are governments that continue to violate press freedom. In these nations, journalists, bloggers, and non-violent critics have been imprisoned and even murdered while attempting to report the truth.

It should be clear to all politicians —that no government whatever its pretensions or whatever its accomplishments can fairly claim respect if its citizens are not allowed to say what they believe or denied the right to learn about events and decisions that affect their lives. A country without a free and independent press is nothing to brag about, has nothing to teach, and no way to fulfill its potential.

According to Freedom House, press freedom declined to its lowest point in the last 12 years in 2017. Only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys free press, while 46 percent live in “Not Free” press environments. The Gambia, remains among the most repressive in the world under Yahya Jammeh, falling into the category of “Worst of the Worst.” North Korea ranks number one for most repressive press freedom conditions.

The World Press Freedom Index 2017 is out and it’s not pretty for new Gambia’s record but Yahya’s Jammeh’s legacy is to be blamed. The Gambia slipped to 148 out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders — placing it in the same category as nations such as Myanmar, Turkey, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Palestine, the Philippines and South Sudan.

New Information Minister Demba Ali Jawo must urgently increase efforts towards creating the necessary media reforms and conditions for the promotion of the pluralistic media in The Gambia. Press freedom has never been as threatened as “highly toxic” media -bashing of Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years’ rule.

The government must act to secure press freedom by repealing draconian press laws that are inimical press freedom and end the public demonization of critical journalists.