By Abdoulie John
Award-winning journalist has decried the Gambia’s worsening media situation. Madi Ceesay is disappointed that the advent of Second Republic is synonymous with promulgation of repressive laws and illegal closure of a good number of media outlets.
“Since the military takeover, Gambian journalists have been confronted with a hostile media environment,” Madi Ceesay, the winner of the Committee to Protect Journalist 2006, said. “Over these past months, the situation has become too bad,” Ceesay said.
Ceesay, a former General Manager of The Independent, had a brush with Gambian authorities when the newspaper ran a story on the abortive March 2006 coup d’état. Authorities took the paper’s reportage on the arrest of Samba Bah, the former Interior Minister, with pinch of salt. Bah denied the story, forcing the star paper’s editorial to swallow their pride and run a rejoinder.
“My experience with The Independent is bitter, and I am still bitter over the move taken by government to close down the newspaper. We did our best to rectify the story. We even interviewed Samba Bah who took the opportunity to set the record straight. However, the government was not satisfied and went ahead to round up and detain the paper’s entire staff. Many of us were subjected to all kinds of humiliation and torture,” Madi Ceesay said in tone of exasperation.
The closure of The Independent had not dampened Mr. Ceesay’s firm belief in giving voice to the voiceless Gambians. He decided to launch The Daily News in a highly toxic environment where everything, including fire had been used to tame independent minded journalists. The paper’s selfless and professional service soon paid off, with The Daily News soon gaining popularity. The paper’s failure to bend its strong editorial policy has put it on the government’s radar.
“On September 14, 2012, plainclothes officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) stormed our offices ordered us to cease operations,” Mr. Ceesay recalled. A sister paper The Standard – owned and operated by the current Information Minister Sheriff Bojang – was also nailed down the same day.
In a clear case of discrimination, The Standard was allowed to breathe while The Daily News was not. Such an unexplained move has left Madi Ceesay dumbfounded.
“There is little I can say about why The Standard is on the newsstands while The Daily News remains closed. As you know the proprietor of The Standard is a current minister,” Mr. Ceesay added. Ceesay recalled days when both media owners engaged in negotiation with the government. “He [Sheriff Bojang] must not expect me to visit him over the same issue because he ought to know better.”
Ceesay there were less than six operational newspapers when Yahya Jammeh came to power. “Three newspapers – New Citizen, The Independent, the Daily News – were forced to close operations. Those operating are mainly into publishing what may not land them into closure. So, there is a lot of self censorship.”
Mr. Ceesay also painted a somber picture of information dearth in the Gambia’s private broadcasting sector. “All of the 19 commercial radios relay music and commercial advertisement. No single radio dares engage in proper dissemination of information that is useful enough to influence or shape public opinion or policy.”
The Gambia – the smallest country on mainland Africa – has been ruled by President Yahya Jammeh since the military dislodged a democratically elected government from power in July 1994. A good number of journalists have either been killed, disappeared or fled into exile. Mr. Jammeh championed a crusade against independent journalists, branding them the “illegitimate sons of Africa.” His sword hangs over media professionals who have been threatened to be buried “six-feet-deep,” a far cry from Jawara’s Gambia where freedoms and rights of everyone were guaranteed.