CPJ Award winning journalist Madi Ceesay has decried the worsening situation of Gambia’s overall media since the advent of the Second Republic marred by repressive laws and the closing down of a good number of news outlets.
“Since the military takeover, Gambian journalists have been confronted with a hostile environment. Over these past months, the situation has become too bad,” the 2006 Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) awardee Madi Cesay has told this reporter.
A former General Manager of The Independent, Madi Ceesay had a brush with Gambian authorities when the newspaper ran an story about the abortive March 2006 coup d’état indicating that former Interior Minister Samba Bah was part of the coupists. Authorities took advantage of the blunder to close down The Independent despite the publication of 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 mistake and interview Samba Bah who took the opportunity to set the record straight. However, government was not satisfied. The whole staff were rounded up, held in detention. Many of us were subjected to all kind of humiliations and tortures,” disclosed Madi Ceesay in a tone that scarcely hides his exasperation.
After a few years later, he decided to launch The Daily News which rapidly gained notoriety. The editorial staff fulfilled their duty to inform with professionalism. A stance which ended putting them on government radars.
“On September 14, 2012 plainclothes officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) stormed our office who ordered us to cease operations,” he said.
The same day, NIA operatives mounted a similar operation directed against The Standard- a newspaper owned by the current Information Minister Sheriff Bojang. They were also ordered to cease publication until further notice.
While The Standard is back to the newsstands, The Daily News is yet to get notified to resume operations.
“There is little I can say about why The Standard is on the newsstands while The Daily News is closed. As you know now the proprietor of The Standard is the minister,” He stated.
The 2006 CPJ Awardee further indicated that when the two newspapers were closed, he and Sheriff Bojang used to go negotiate together with government. “He cannot expect me to visit him over the same issue as he ought to know better.”
Ceesay recalled that when Yahya Jammeh came to power there were less than 6 operational newspapers. “Three newspapers were forced to close: The Citizen, The Independent, the Daily News. Those operating are
mainly into publishing what may not land them into closure. So, there is a lot of self censorship.”
He went on to reveal a somber picture of the broadcasting sector where private radio stations are not disseminating information. “Of the 19 commercial radios, all are only into music and commercial advertisement. No single radio is into proper dissemination of information useful enough to influence decision makers.”
The tiny West African nation is ruled with an iron fist by President Yahya Jammeh who seized power in a 1994 bloodless coup. A number of journalists were killed or ‘disappeared’ during his 22-year rule. He once described journalists as the “illegitimate sons of Africa” and has threatened to bury them “six-feet-deep”.
Written by Abdoulie JOHN