In this interview Madi M.K.Ceesay editor/publisher of the Daily News talks to us on a variety of issues ranging from press freedom, human rights , closures of media houses, tortures , his own experiences in the hands of the defunct NIA and the disappearances of journalists among other things under the past government. Madi is the Committee for the Protection of Journalist’s (CPJ) 2006 International Press Freedom awardee; he is a journalist for many years.
Daily News: The Daily News has not been in circulation for years now why was that the case?
Madi: Thank you for coming ; I would first want to say that the Daily News was a legally registered newspaper since 2009 and that it did not just disappear from the newsstands but rather was arbitrarily forced to closed down by the Jammeh regime. Just like how the Jammeh/APRC regime has a dislike for the media, we as an institution was not given any reasons why we are to stop operations. In short my answer is that the APRC regime wasa just not comfortable with our editorial stand and felt the only way to silenced us was by using force and that is what they did.
Daily News: What was it like operating a newspaper under the former regime?
Madi: Operating a newspaper or any form of media exercise was just very difficult and risky. Most of the heinous crimes that affected the media and its practitioners were killing. The Gambian media have never have experienced one of them killed until in 2004 when our colleague and friend Deyda Hydara was murdered in cool blood on the 13 December 2004 by some armed men whose identity we did not know till today. In 2007 another journalist Chief Ebrima Manned who use to work for Daily Observer a pro-APRC newspaper also got disappeared since 2007 and who is feared killed as we did not have a trace of him since then. These were new phenomena in the post Jawara regime. All of such came to light only when former dictator Yahya Jammeh took the leadership of the Gambia through a coup and then civilian.
It did not stop at only killing and disappearances but newspaper houses were forced to close if found not in the good books of the APRC regime. The regime also succeeded in forcing many of our colleagues to leave their motherland against their wills. So it’s like a hell operating a media outlet in the former regime.
Daily News: What is your assessment of press freedom in the Gambia and what effects negative or positive did that have on the media landscape?
Madi: Gambia is one of the countries with the worst press freedom status. Freedom House a media research organization rated Gambia as internet is rated not free and also press not free. Another international media organization that specialises on research also rated the country as a not free press.
My answer to your question is that Gambia is poor in terms of press freedom and that has negatively affected the country’s media landscape. We one among very few and non in the sub-region where before one operates a newspaper one has to register with a very high collateral fees. The government of Yahya Jammeh has levied high tax on the media and are treated with a very discriminatorily. Media houses are closed arbitrarily with a court order and in the past the government will not hesitate to send a journalist in jail without trail.
Daily News: Tell us something about your experience in the hands of the defunct NIA in 2006 when you were arrested.
Madi: I have not openly talk about my experiences in the hands of the defunct NIA in March 2006 but many people do know about it. UI was the then Manager of the Independent newspaper when the 2006 attempt coup took place. The paper ran a story on it and one Samba Bah former NIA director and one time minister under Jammeh was mentioned to have a hand in it and was arrested. This was later discover not to be the case and he Samba Bah he is late now, came to the office and complained very bitterly about the story.
He was given a reporter who took his complained and was published the following day in the same space the former story was published with an apology. He was satisfied with that; only for the state to visit the newspapers office arrested every one even some government massagers who came to deliver advertisement at the office for questioning at the Kanifing intervention police station.
Later all were released except me and I was then taken to the NIA where I spend 21 days , Musa Saidykhan the editor-in-Chief and Lamin Fatty the author of the story were all subjected to severe beatings under the command of Musa Jammeh and Tubul Tamba (all late now) all of them are members Gambia Armed Forces. My colleagues Musa hand were broken twice and he was alongside all of us humiliated by the soldiers with insults and beatings. The questions they keep asking uis while beating us was that who do we work for?
The beauty of it is the then director of the NIA is still alive and he is Harry Sambou. He allowed the institution be used for tortures and he and his entire unit are aware and somehow took part by being a accomplished to the tortures. I still have scars on my back.
Daily News: Lets swift our attention to an increase in the number of radios and newspapers since the APRC came to power would you not consider that a progress?
Madi: I would not consider what you have just describe as progress; reasons being that we have not seen any increase in the number of newspapers or radio stations in the country since the coming into office of the APRC, rather what happen is a closure of one radio station by the state and the opening of another by private citizens; or closure of newspapers because the state did not like the way they report.
Before the coming into office of the APRC; Sud fm, radio syd, Citizen Radio, radio one and also we do newspapers like the Citizen newspaper; but what is the situation today? The Citizen newspaper in no more on the newsstands, the Daily News was not until their fall on the newsstands, and Sud fm, Radio Syd and Citizen fm are all not on. What the happens is a scenarios of one out one in. The system succeeded in closing one and citizens opening another.
Yes one can say that we have seen an increase in the opening of community radios as I speak to you now there are 9 community radios with 18 other private/commercial radios operating. But only a very few does news and review of the contents of the local newspapers all other are mainly into commercial and entertainments. They would have loved to do news and other current affairs programs but under the previous regime they can’t or risk being forced out of business.
Daily News: The Gambian journalists are under pressure that they are more of join the list than journalist, what is your reaction to that?
Madi: I would not agree to that statement; because this group of people are doing a very good service to the country as a whole. There is no single incident where these group of professionals have done a deserve to the country and its people in terms of their reportage. It is also no where the Gambian journalists have cause violence through their writings; so I do not think that is a fair statement.
Daily News: Yes but it said there just jump from class rooms to the newsrooms; or from other jobs straight into news rooms without and form of training, what do you have to say?
Madi: Well in many countries the state build schools where journalism it taught; for the then APRC government it took them a long time to allow a school of journalism into the university. The journalists themselves did take it upon themselves to develop themselves and that is why we are where we are today. The Gambia Press Union need to be commended for their continuous training of its members, the short courses most of which were free did help our profession a lot.
Daily News: Now that there is a change of government what are your expectations for the media?
Madi: I am very optimistic that the media land scape will change for the positive. It is too early to say anything but I hope with the calibre of the people in this government I am hoping to see a sanitization of the media laws. The outgoing regime has in the past 22 years come up with very unfriendly media laws that and anti-press free. My expectations are that a constitutional review commission will be set up and that will be able to look into all the bad laws not only limited t media but across the board. Hopefully we should also see the coming up of private Televisions stations and it is only then the population will have a choice. Many Gambians do tune into televisions out of the country because they did not have the variety they wanted.
Daily News: Your last words for the readership
Madi: I want to seize this opportunity to tell that public that Daily News is back and we hope to be fully operational in a month or two to come; as it is not easy after 4 years absence. It’s a business we have lost all our equipment; computers, printers, furniture we are left with nothing we are starting all over again but with time will be able to come back with our usual flavour of news and commentaries.
Daily News: Thank Mr. Ceesay
Madi: you are welcome.