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Wednesday, 01 January 2014 16:20(JollofNews) – Two of three major media houses banned last year by Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh have been allowed to resume operations.
Taranga FM Radio and The Standard newspaper were given a reprieve thanks to a Presidential decree on the eve of the New Year.
A statement aired on the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) Tuesday night attributed the gesture to Jammeh, whose unilateral decision to close them attracted worldwide condemnation.
Together with the Daily News newspaper, owned by veteran journalist Madi Ceesay, the two media houses were shut down in 2012 during a major media crack down by the anti-press freedom government.
Questions are now being asked about the fate of the Daily News which wasn’t mention in the Presidential statement.
Taranaga FM was shunned by the regime for its popular program which ensured the news was brought to the vast majority of the local population which is often left out. The radio station does so by translating daily news carried by the country’s tabloids in the major local languages of the country.
Its proprietor, Ismaila Ceesay, was also forced into exile in the UK where he currently lives, according to sources.
Although personnel of the feared secrete police loyal to Jammeh – the NIA - ordered the media houses to cease operation without offering any explanation, the development followed the infamous executions of nine prisoners by the regime, another action that attracted widespread condemnation.
Both papers covered extensively the executions as the only remaining independent media outlets in the country.
The Standard is believed to have fallen foul of the regime with its publication of a statement by famous Islamic scholar and human rights activists, Imam Baba Leigh, who condemned the executions.
Mr Leigh was himself later kidnapped by the secret police and detained incommunicado for over five months.
The Presidential statement announcing the lifting of the ban on the two privately owned-media said it was “a mark of goodwill for the New Year.”
Given his aversion for liberty, it is unlike Jammeh to overturn a ban on a media considered as hostile to his regime only on humanitarian grounds. Therefore, the question on everyone’s lip has been: why the sudden change of heart.
But one likely explanation is the pressure being piled on his regime by international donor partners, particularly the European Union which recently held back millions of Euros in response to the deteriorating human rights situation in Gambia.
As a tax-dependent nation, Gambia, to a large extent, depends on donor support for funding of its on-going infrastructural development and other needs. But whatever the reason, it is only a matter of wait-and-see as to how this ends up.
Taranaga FM and The Standard will be resuming operations under some of the worst draconian media laws in the world. And the Presidential statement did remind them of this.
“They are free to operate but the two institutions are urged to operate within the framework of the laws governing the media in this country,” the statement signed by the new kid on the block, Secretary General and Presidential Affairs Minister, Momodou Sabally, stressed.
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