Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Authorities extend media censorship to individual journalists

Ms Binta Bah, a senior judicial correspondent of The Daily News/PHOTO:Facebook

Following the arbitrary closure of two of the leading independent newspapers, The Standard and The Daily News by NIA agents who claim the order was from President Yahya Jammeh on September 14, the authorities in Gambia have extended the developing trend of media censorship to individual journalists working with the two papers.

On Monday, October 15, Ms Binta Bah, a senior judicial correspondent of The Daily News and Sainey MK Marenah, a senior judicial correspondent of The Standard were denied entry at the Supreme Court in Banjul to cover the third and final appeal against the death sentence of ex- chief of defence Lang Tombong Tamba and six others. 

Plain clothes officials in dark suites who prevented the duo from covering the court hearing claimed the “order” to stop the journalists emanated from the Office of the President.

They (the journalists) said “we were told by a plain clothes officer that since our media houses are closed – no more publishing - we should not cover the case anymore.” The officer in question who identified himself only as Edward, is believed to be a member of national intelligence agency, the NIA.

Ms Bah was let in after telling the officer that besides her paper, she is also a blogger and will use her blog,
Women's Bantabaa to publish the story. 

“I was later let in but after about 15 minutes I was told by the state security agent that the director of press at the State House, Modou Saidy, said he was not aware of my blog because my blog is not registered so I should not cover the case as my paper is no longer publishing,” Ms Bah was quoted saying to Gambia News Online
The North Bank Evening Standard can tell that there is no provision in the Gambian Constitution that requires blogs to be registered.

“The officer said they operate on directives and he is given a directive that we are not allow to cover the case anymore. Sorry but you have to go out, the officer told me,” Binta explained.

Mr. Sainey MK Marenah, a senior judicial correspondent of The Standard/PHOTO:Facebook

However, efforts to corroborate the incident with director of press at the State House, Modou Saidy, yield no results. 

From the beginning in March 2009, Mr. Marenah and Ms Bah have covered the trial professionally and comprehensively, to when the suspects accused of plotting a coup against Jammeh’s government were convicted and handed the death sentence. They also covered subsequent appeals against the High Court verdict of July 15, 2010.

While relatives and sympathizers of the convicts and the general public were allowed to witness Monday’s appeal, hence it is a public hearing; the two journalists were singled out and thrown out of court. Some of their colleagues from other media were allowed to cover the court session, however. 

In March 2010, a similar move was taken by the state security agents, who starved of a cohort of journalists from the independent press from covering the State Opening of the National Assembly despite some of them having official accreditation.

Media censorship

On September 14 this year, State Intelligence Agents of the NIA in the Gambian capital, Banjul, visited the offices of The Standard, a privately-owned daily and The Daily News, a privately-owned paper which publishes three-times a week and told them that the president had ordered both papers to cease operations immediately.

Neither the agents nor the president’s office provided an explanation, however, the “order to censor” the papers came amid a national and trans-boundary debate on the lead to and the execution of nine death row inmates by the Jammeh-Government, which The Standard and The Daily News covered extensively.

Exactly a month earlier, NIA operatives gave a “final order” to close Taranga FM, an independent community radio station on August 14, 2012. As usual, no reason was advanced.

The FM station offered access to divergent information to majority of uneducated Gambians with its news and newspaper review broadcast in local languages.  It was also closed between January and February 2011, and only allowed to resume operation after 32 days off air. 

The multinational free expression and press freedom advocate, Article 19 says the Gambia Government negates the very essence of freedom of expression. 

The rights group also expresses concerns about the continuous deteriorating press freedom, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists under the Jammeh regime.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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