Press release – The heads of Kerr Fatou and Mengbekering media platforms have condemned a recent “dangerous attack” on their platforms by President Adama Barrow.
Addressing a political rally in Bansang in the Central River Region on 29 September, Barrow singled out the two platforms while responding to the main opposition UDP leader Ousainu Darboe who earlier questioned The Gambia’s democratic credentials under the current government.
“If there was no democracy in this country, Kerr Fatou TV would not have continued to exist. If there was no democracy, Mengbekering radio would not have continued to exist”, Barrow told his supporters in a live televised speech, in an apparent swipe at two media platforms his officials and party members often accuse of being pro-opposition.
Raising concern about the president’s statement, Fatou Touray, the CEO of Kerr Fatou said she was “shocked and saddened” by the president’s “inflammatory rhetoric”, describing it as a “direct attack on free speech and the media”.
“The recent comments made by President Adama Barrow at the Bansang political gathering, particularly those directed towards my media outlet, Kerr Fatou Media, have given rise to grave apprehensions about the state of democracy and press freedom in The Gambia”, she wrote in a letter to the National Human Rights Commission.
Ms Touray accused the president of “crossing a dangerous line”, arguing that his “dangerous remarks undermine the fundamental principles of open discourse, pluralism, and accountability, which are indispensable for a functioning democracy”.
“When a government singles out specific media outlets for intimidation or suppression, it sets a perilous precedent that endangers the essential role of the press as a bulwark against governmental overreach.”
She also expressed her displeasure at the president for giving the impression that Kerr Fatou had done something wrong or unlawful.
“Since my return from exile in 2017 and the subsequent launch of Kerr Fatou Media, it has been my unwavering commitment as a young Gambian to provide an open platform that welcomes all political perspectives within our nation. This dedication to impartiality is evident in our platform’s history, which includes hosting the president on several occasions and extending the same courtesy to other opinion leaders.”
She added: “Despite facing resource limitations, Kerr Fatou has diligently strived to provide equitable coverage of all political viewpoints, establishing itself as a pioneer in various aspects of journalism.”
Ms Touray said although she was concerned about the president’s attack on her media platform, Kerr Fatou “remained committed to delivering news with integrity, upholding the truth, and maintaining staunch independence”.
“My determination remains steadfast in safeguarding the foundational principles of a free press and the unobstructed exchange of ideas, thereby ensuring that no government can capriciously suppress the voices responsible for holding power accountable.”
For Pa Modou Bojang, the host of Mengbekering talk show and CEO of Home Digital FM which broadcasts the show, President Barrow’s statement is “reckless and disgraceful”. He took a swipe at the president for “maliciously and dishonestly” singling out Mengbekering.
“The president’s intention was to assault our integrity, demonise our professionalism and use that vitriolic rhetoric to spark public hostility towards me and my establishment.”
Mr Bojang said the president has manifested that his understanding and definition of independent press are confined to sycophancy and presidential flattery, adding that whoever does not sings the president’s praises becomes his enemy.
“I remember in his presidential honeymoon days in 2017, Barrow was the biggest fan of Mengbekering talk show. He’d listen to us religiously and would often tell me how big a role I was playing in enlightening the Gambian people and consolidating democracy. But once the show started holding him and his government to account, we became his enemy.”
Mr Bojang said although he was disturbed by the president’s attack, it would not deter him from using his show and radio to scrutinise public officials and empower the masses.
“Mengbekering and Home Digital FM have always played by the rules of the law and democracy. We have not broken any law. What we do is to hold our president and government to account, in a language understood by the overwhelming majority of our listeners. This is what might has scared the president and his inner circle. But I have long decided to continue to do my work without fear or favour. Telling the truth and holding my government to account mean everything to me and I won’t stop.”