Press Freedom in The Gambia: Another Blow as Teranga FM is Closed
Friday, August 17, 2012
Taranga FM, a commercial radio station, was ordered to close down on Tuesday night 14 August 2012 by plain-clothes officials, as the Muslim Umma was observing Lailatul Khadr. This is the second time in two years. In February of 2011, the proprietor, Ismaila Sisay, was ordered to close down the radio and reason advanced was that the radio should stop reviewing local newspapers in local languages.
About three pick-ups were full with plain-clothes officials, and when they descended on the radio about midnight, the proprietor was asked to hand over his license and give names and contacts of his Board of Directors, which he did. The leader of the team, , NIA, told Mr. Ismaila Sisay that they had received directives to shut the station immediately. He did not say who or where the directives came from.
It is very unfortunate that The Gambia is still facing such unwarranted arrests and closures of media houses. Why such harassment, is just very difficult for anyone to understand. The history of radio stations closed in the country is more than three. The Citizen FM suffered a similar harassment in the past and was at the end, forced to close up to the time of the death of its proprietor, Babucarr Gaye, in 2007. The Senegalese-owned private radio station, Sud FM, was also closed down here without a court order. And now Taranga FM is also closed down.
It is very unfortunate that a couple of years ago some people praised that the year was free from all form of harassment, except that a few journalists were called in for questioning.
However, the picture in 2011 was a contrast. It was not a very free year for Gambian journalists, as some of them tasted some amount of harassment. The Nanama Keitas, the Sheriff Bojangs, some of them were only questioned over certain things, while others, among them, were made to pay some amounts of fines. The likes of Saikou Ceesay, formerly of The Daily News and now with The Standard newspaper, with his connections to the Nanama Keita case, also had his share of the harassment.
Apart from his connections with the Nanama Keita case (to be precise, he only bailed Nanama, who jumped the bail), Ceesay had some distractions from some quarters as a human rights activists and a critical writer.
The year 2012 is not by any means a trouble-free year for Gambian journalists. It saw the contempt of court cases against the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Daily News, Mr. Lamin Njie, another contempt case against the Editor of Today newspaper, Hamid Adiamoh, with another one, too, against Sidiq Asemota, a long-experienced court reporter with Daily Observer. The worst of it all, with four months to the end of 2012, is the closure of Taranga Radio FM on Tuesday 14 August 2012.
Media Watch would like to draw the attention of the government of The Gambia that due to the international focus on the media atmosphere of the Gambia, it is time that they turned over a new page. There cannot be any true democracy and transparency if the media is stifled. The media must be left to do their work with total freedom and non-harassment and intimidation. The world is watching us with a very sharp eye. It should be noted that freedom of the press is a yardstick for governance.
The Gambia has suffered from non-freedom of the press for quite a number of years now. Many a Gambian journalists, about 20%, are living and working outside The Gambia for fear of their lives. Most of these Gambian journalists could have immensely contributed to the development of our dear motherland if the environment was favorable to them.
It is worth recalling that Citizen FM Radio and New Citizen newspaper and The Independent newspaper have all been closed down without any court order. The Independent newspaper equipment was later handed over when most of its big names have gone and lived in exile in other countries.
The founder and proprietor of the Citizen radio and New Citizen newspaper, Boubcarr Gaye, passed away when his radio and newspaper were still closed down. One of its founding journalists and BBC correspondent, Ebrima Sillah, is also in exile. He is a victim of arson-attack in his home village of Jamburr, Kombo North. The Independent newspaper also experienced a dangerous arson-attack in which it lost a very expensive printing machine. The machine was entirely burnt down by the arsonists. Another arson-attack was experienced by Radio One FM, and its proprietor, George Christenson, sustained injuries.
In 2009, six prominent Gambian journalists were tried and sentenced to jail terms for merely reacting to a statement made by the country’s president. These six were veteran journalists Pap Saine, co-founder of The Point, Sam Sarr, Managing Editor of Foroyaa newspaper, Bai Emily Touray, then Secretary-General, now President of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Sarata Dibba, former Vice President of the GPU, Pa Modou Faal, former Treasurer of GPU, Ebrima Sawaneh of The Point. These journalists served part of their jail term before a presidential pardon.
Gambian journalists are always either in the run for their lives, working under censorship and fear, awaited by draconian media laws, disappear (chief Manneh) torture (Musa Saidykhan and Co) or killed (Deyda Hydara) amid inept investigations to bring the culprits to justice.
To conclude, Media Watch quotes this excerpt from The Daily News’ editorial of Monday 17-18 January 2011, in connection to the closure of Taranga FM in February 2011 and it reads:
“Taranga FM, as a media outlet, is part of the democratic institutions of this country, because it is a byproduct of the fourth estate; it is next to the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. If it is barred from carrying out its functions, the democratic practice and standard of The Gambia will continue to be questioned. We call on the authorities concerned to allow Taranga FM to resume operations without conditionality.”
With that, Media Watch wants to call on the authorities to allow Taranga FM to resume its operations, as its closure will only stain the press freedom status of our dear motherland. Allow press freedom, and the populace will be more aware which is good for all and sundry.
For any comments and contributions contact Media Watch on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 9906813.
Author: Madi M.K Ceesay