By D. A. Jawo, media consultant, freelance consultancy and training
With the untimely death of George Christensen, the Gambia, and indeed the entire African continent has lost not only a pioneering broadcaster but also an uncompromising defender of free expression.
George left a comfortable life in the United Kingdom to return to the Gambia to contribute his quota to national development. He shot to prominence in1990 when he opened Radio 1FM, becoming the second private radio station after Radio Syd and the first of about 20 FM stations to operate in the country since then.
In addition to providing alternative source of information and entertainment from the monotony of Radio Gambia, Radio 1FM also became the most effective training institution for young Gambian broadcasters. Among those trained at Radio 1FM include Lamin Manga, who later became Director General of GRTS, Fatou Camara of Fatu Show fame, Harona Drammeh of MediaMatic/Paradise FM, Sidy Ceesay of Freedom Newspaper/Radio and Modou Thomas, anchorman of the famous Sunday News Hour, to name just a few.
George had also played quite an effective role in doing consultancy work both in the Gambia and other parts of Africa in helping to advance community broadcasting.
Even though he always insisted that he was a sound engineer instead of a journalist, George played an important role in the GPU training programme and he was also a founding member of the South Africa-based World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in which he served as lead facilitator and training officer. In that role, he travelled all over Africa to help develop community radio broadcasting.
We can all vividly recall the effective role that Radio 1FM played in popularizing private broadcasting in the Gambia, with George himself taking part in many interactive programmes to which the telephone lines were open to the public to contribute. One of the most popular of such programmes was no doubt the weekly Sunday News Hour during which a panel discussed several issues of national currency, as well as opened the lines for public participation.
We can also recall the huge impact that a special programme George initiated during the April 10/11 student demonstrations in 2000 when the security forces shot dead several of them. The live phone-in programme had such an impact that the police forced it to be stopped.
Another programme that made much impact was the weekly discussion by Pa Dacosta in which he bluntly criticized the regime for its stance on many issues.
However, despite all the threats and harassments George had been subjected to by the authorities and their agents, including the arson attack on the radio in 2001 in which he suffered serious burns, he still refused to be intimidated and continued serving the information-hungry Gambians.
We can also recall that Radio 1FM was the one used by the “Soldiers with a difference” to announce their coup d’etat in 1994, and yet, they still went on to subject him to all sorts of harassment when he refused to toe their line.
We say adieu to George and sympathies to his wife Mary Samba as well as other members of his family and friends, and indeed to all Gambians to whom he served to the best of his ability.