A majority leader of Gambia’s National Assembly has accused bloggers of putting stories online that “insulted” the country’s leadership.
“Some people are blogging and putting stories on the internet and other websites insulting the leadership of this country,” Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta claims while speaking during an adjournment debate of the Assembly on Dec. 19, 2012.
This angle of the news is given little prominence by local media and can only be found embedded in stories on the papers it appeared. Instead the local media focused on the issues of mainstream media that we’ve heard over and over, a local journalist and blogger told The North Bank Evening Standard.
“This kind of allegation can attract attention from the powers that be and possibly encourage a new regime of curtailing freedom of expression even on cyberspace,” he argued.
Findings by The North Bank Evening Standard, one of Gambia’s leading blogs revealed there is no point that local-based bloggers had gone to the extremes of hauling insults to the country’s leadership.
It confirmed that local bloggers, mostly journalists, have criticised but not insulted public figures in their writings.
What constitute insult to the president or the country’s leadership must be properly defined and not intended to gag free expression, says the blog that is committed to “Telling the stories of Africa to over one billion Africans.”
Under Gambian and international laws, especially the international standards on freedom of expression, public officials who are paid by taxpayers and managing public resources must be held accountable, hence, they must accept a great deal of criticism.
In fact, Hon Jatta who is not afraid of criticism admits he is convinced that a vibrant press only helps the country’s leadership and an essential ingredient to democracy and good governance.
“We are not afraid of being criticised. We are not claiming to be a perfect government,” he said on Wednesday while hailing Taranga FM (arbitrary closed for the second time in August 2012) for doing good work. “We must be honest to our conscience and be able to advise correctly on issues and together we can move this country.”
Taranga FM, which runs daily local language news broadcast (called “xibari besbi”) that reviews local newspapers was earlier warned to stop reviewing what the authorities deemed “opposition newspapers”.
On September 14, 2012 both The Daily News and The Standard newspapers were ordered to stop publishing their print versions.
The arbitrarily closure of the two independent papers followed their accurate and balanced coverage of a very heated national and international debate on the killing by firing squad of nine death row inmates in August.
While the majority leader criticised people he described as disgruntled elements for “instigating discord” in the country, both he and the speaker of the national assembly Hon. Abdoulie Bojang promised to appeal to the authorities to allow banned media houses in The Gambia to resume operations.
We need not to raise hopes so high. Even if the ban is to be lifted it is very unlikely to include earlier banned media like The Independent newspaper, Citizen FM, Sud FM, or even Radio One, a local journalists leader said.
Written by Modou S. Joof