By Madi Jobarteh
The only reason The Gambia Government decided to withdraw from its violation of the law by allowing the re-opening of Home Digital and King FM radio stations is because they have no case and indeed the Gambia Press Union and citizens stood their ground that the radio stations must be opened.
This is what we must recognise as the only truth. The action of The Gambia Government is a clear violation of the rule of law and freedom of the media which did not happen by mistake in anyway. It was a deliberately calculated attempt to close down these radio stations with a view to suppressing freedom of expression hence limit the ability of citizens to hold the state accountable.
A government is not an association of children. Rather the government is occupied by well-educated and well-experienced adult men and women who have all the requisite capacity and resources to make the right decisions at the right time. Hence the idea that the government could make a mistake especially in closing down a radio station is a farce! It is clear that if GPU and citizens did not stand their ground this government would not have opened these radio stations at all.
Therefore, let us not be so naïve to buy false narratives that seek to celebrate the Government for fixing the law and rights that they deliberately broke when they are not supposed to do so in the first place. The government has all the means to respond to any media reportage they do not agree with yet this government refused to do that and instead decided to use power illegally to clampdown on these radio stations.
Even when the Minister of Information, Ebrima Sillah, said the police were investigating; it is now 30 days and there is no report about that investigation. What is clear is that there has been no investigation at all. The fact is the government was just buying time to see if the GPU and Gambians will just forget about this issue so that the radio stations will remain closed forever! Let us learn lessons from Yahya Jammeh!
At this stage the GPU must be commended for standing their ground and pushing the government back to the rule of law. As indicated by its president, Sheriff Bojang Jnr, there must be accountability for this blatant abuse of power. Citizens must continue to demand to know who ordered this illegal act and there must be adequate compensation for the damage caused to the radio stations and their journalists.
In this regard, I completely disagree with the Minister of Justice Abubacarr Tambadou, in seeking to legitimise this illegal act on the basis that there is no perfect democracy or perfect government. What does the minister mean by that? Who is asking for a “perfect democracy?” We are a democratic republic that is governed by laws which are to be enforced by the state. Therefore, what we need is for that state to act according to the law so that democracy can flourish. Thus the issue of a perfect democracy is meaningless.
Secondly, his claim that there have been shortcomings on the part of both the government and the media and therefore lessons are learnt is equally a farce. What is the shortcoming the media committed in this situation? Clearly if Home Digital and King FM radio stations violated the law they must be held to account without compromise. But what law did they violate in their reporting?
Therefore, if there is any shortcoming and lesson to learn, it is The Gambia Government that committed those shortcomings from which it must learn to respect the law and protect fundamental freedoms. This is what the minster should have said than to seek to disparage the media with the false narrative that some journalists are not well-educated or lack capacity. That is not the issue here anyway.
What happened is caused by The Gambia Government and they must own their own violations. It is disingenuous for the minister to seek to share that misconduct with the media or anyone else. Since inception, the GPU has been working to build the capacity of its members which shall continue. However, the illegal closure of these media houses has nothing to do with media capacity.
Thirdly, we cannot continue to hide behind the 22-year dictatorship yet we continue to deliberately violate rights. If we are going to make progress, we should continue on that path only. But we cannot be claiming that progress only to perpetuate, rationalise and defend abuse.
Therefore, I wish to call on citizens to refuse to be naïve, misguided and misinformed by these high sounding self-righteous statements by government officials. This country is governed by laws and the state is mandated to enforce that law without fear or favour. Therefore, we must not accept the abuse of that law only for government to put up a drama as if they are doing us a favour.
The re-opening of these radio stations and the dropping of bogus charges against the journalists is not a favour from the government. Rather it is a confirmation of the blatant abuse of power by the state for which they must be held accountable. The government only withdrew from that violation simply because GPU and citizens stood their ground.
Madi Jobarteh is a former broadcast journalist at Radio Gambia and programme manager at Tango. He is currently the head of Westminster Foundation in The Gambia.