By Abdoulie John
Frantic efforts by the Gambia Press Union to unseal the offices of the Observer Media Company, publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper, bore no fruit. A meeting involving the GPU and Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) officials ended without a breakthrough.
“We couldn’t agree on anything with Gambia Press Union (GPU),” GRA Commissioner General Yankuba Darboe told this reporter.
Over these past years, the leading pro-government Daily Observer has been used as a propaganda tool of the former dictator Jammeh and his Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction party. The advent of the new regime provides an opportunity for the newspaper to provide a more ‘independent’ news coverage. However, the forfeiture of Yahya Jammeh’s assets and millions of dalasi of unpaid taxes have threatened the survival of Observer and its parent company. Its staff and management too have been affected.
The Observer Media Company has over 100 workers with a good number of freelance journalists
The GRA chief acknowledged that press union officials made an appeal for Daily Observer to return to business. “We told them the conditions that are involved, and they respect our position. We maintain the temporary closure,” Darboe added. Daily Observer owe GRA 17 millions dalasi, which must be paid within two weeks. After this period expires, the GRA will envisage what to do next.
Daily Observer Managing Director Pa Modou Mbowe decried the tax authorities’ sudden decision to force the company out of business. Such a move, he added, has denied Observer income generated from advertisements.
The closure of the GRA has generated widespread national and international attention. While most people blamed the Observer for not paying taxes, one former Gambian editor was on the defensive. Alagi Yorro Jallow, a former editor and co-founder of The Independent newspaper, said the Observer closure was a “political miscalculation and affront to press freedom.”
Mr. Jallow said it is unimaginable for any media to be closed down in a democratic Gambia “under the guise of enforcing the law or reported failure to pay tax.”