From what was expected to become a democratic dispensation through a vibrant and free press, the recent closure of two radio stations by security forces on government orders have quashed such hopes while derailing the progress of the country in transition.
On January 26th, King FM and Home Digital radio stations were shut down. Both are still off the air. The managers of both stations were also placed under incommunicado detention for more than 30 hours before they could be accessed by their colleagues, lawyers and family members. The duo were released following pressure mounted on the government by the Gambia Press Union and the public.
Today, across the globe, many are taking part of World Radio Day (WRD), a designated date proclaimed in 2011 by the member states of UNESCO, and adopted by UN General Assembly in 2012 to commemorate the day on February 13th.
Today, journalists in The Gambia have renewed their demand for the government to release the affected stations.
“It’s unfortunate that two radio stations have been closed. This shouldn’t happen in a democracy, especially the one that’s in a transition. The most important thing we expected to happen is to strengthen institutions, not weaken them,” Mustapha K. Darboe, Vice President of Gambia Press Union (GPU) told The Chronicle.
He states that an attempt to shut down radio stations is anti-democratic as it encourages dictatorship.
Sankulleh Janko, a correspondent for Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR), said closing radio stations is an attempt to frustrate employed journalists whose daily survival depends on the job.
“It’s really bad for our democracy, a democracy that was loved and praised across the world.”
A young broadcaster working with West Coast Radio, Banna Sabally, has called on the government to reopen the stations.
“Considering this issue, it’s a very sad and unfortunate thing knowing that radio stations have been closed and young journalists who are working there are left jobless. The radios are a source of employment for them,” she said.
“Looking at it from another angle, the press freedom is at stake if radio stations can be closed for what they are reporting. It’s a setback in our newly found democracy.”
For Mariama Cham, a news producer at Choice FM, said there is no difference between Jammeh and Barrow’s government with regard to freedom of the media.
“Jammeh made a pronouncement that he would close media houses so that journalists could starve to death and Barrow is doing the same,” she told The Chronicle.
“There are family, men, and women who are working at these radio stations and they need to put something on the table for survival. It’s depression. This is a trauma for them,” she lamented.
The closure of the radio stations came following a violent demonstration at the outskirt of Banjul, as protesters reminded the president his promise to serve only a three-year term during the 2016 presidential campaign season.