By Madi Jobarteh
After 22 years of direct and severe harassment of the media by the APRC regime, it is utterly callous of any media house and journalist in the world to celebrate Yaya Jammeh in any manner or form. Yet the Daily Observer, without remorse decided to irresponsibly dedicate a front page birthday wish to a tyrant, majority of whose victims in the media community in fact come from that very newspaper. Even if Yaya Jammeh owns the Daily Observer, one would expect that the Editor-in-Chief and staffs of that newspaper would remember their former colleague Chief Ebrima Manneh who was kidnapped and killed on the orders of Yaya Jammeh. This is one single case among many other Daily Observer journalists who were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and torture with many more having to flee to save their lives at various times. Yet 22 years later, the Daily Observer had no good judgment but to celebrate such a predator of press freedom in the Gambia.
The Daily Observer of today is indeed a huge shame if one truly considers the very origin of that paper and the glorious history of its original proprietor Kenneth Best of Liberia. In 1990 this honourable man established the Daily Observer as the first daily newspaper in the Gambia. He believed in our country so much so that he made the credo of the newspaper, “Forward with The Gambia” which can be seen everyday in the front page of the newspaper. It was at this newspaper that some of Gambia’s finest veteran journalists either started their career or improved themselves to international repute.
I was myself a beneficiary of Daily Observer training in 1992 where I could remember some of the editors and journalists of the newspaper such as the current Information Minister Demba Jawo, GRTS chief Ebrima Sillah, now UK-based expert Ebrima Ceesay, our US-based experts Baba Galleh Jallow and Yoro Jallow, and indeed Ndey Tapha Sosseh who became the first female Editor-in-Chief years later. The story of the Daily Observer and its contribution to the development of the media is glorious and deep. Hence it was utterly tragic that this noble paper had to land in the hands of Yaya Jammeh in the first place. Since then it has distinguished itself for gutter journalism, as it became the mouthpiece of the dictatorship using its pages to ridicule Gambian dignity and destroy Gambians lives with impunity.
But the folks that work in the Daily Observer are Gambian citizens. Thus one does not expect that when Gambians shed blood and tears to remove that tyranny, this paper will still fail to recognize their own sovereignty and dignity and align themselves with the new aspirations of the country. But it appears the editors and staffs of the Daily Observer do not understand the trials and tribulations of the media in this country hence they could insult their own fallen colleagues in their face by celebrating a journalist killer.
In fact the first victim of Yaya Jammeh was Kenneth Best himself when he was illegally and forcefully deported from the Gambia on 30 October 1994. Without any charge or court appearance, security agents bundled this man out of his house to drive him straight to the airport for deportation to his war-torn Liberia from where he fled the tyranny of Samuel Doe to the Gambia. Yaya Jammeh never cared if the man was going to face any risks when he returned! How callous!
Is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Observer telling us that he does not know that there was a man called Deyda Hydara who was shot to death by agents of Yaya Jammeh called the Junglers? Does the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Observer wish to tell us that he did not know the Junglers burnt down the former Independent Newspaper printing machine as well as Radio 1FM? Does the Editor-in-Chief wish to tell us that he does not know about the illegal closing down of Citizen FM, The Independent Newspaper, Taranga FM, Daily News Newspaper and Standard Newspaper over the years?
Is the Daily Observer not aware of the jailing of GPU Executive members and editors of Foroyaa and The Point newspapers in 2009 for sedition? Is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Observer telling us that he is not aware of the torture of numerous Gambian journalists such as the current parliamentarian Madi Ceesay or Musa Saidykhan and many others? Is the Daily Observer telling us that they are not aware of the terrible bad laws against the media in the Gambia and the insults that Yaya Jammeh had consistently heaped on the media? Yet this Editor-in-Chief and his editorial and management teams have no scruples but to trumpet the very tyrant who is behind all these atrocities and bad anti-media laws in the Gambia.
Let me remind the Daily Observer that in 1994, Yaya Jammeh said
“Journalists are the illegitimate sons of Africa. Citizens should not buy newspapers so that journalists can starve to death.”
The time has therefore come for Gambians to totally and completely boycott the Daily Observer because this newspaper has demonstrated that it does not feel and sympathize with the misery of its own fallen colleagues. By this Yaya Jammeh birthday advertisement they have insulted Deyda Hydara and Chief Manneh and the entire media fraternity and their families. They have insulted the entire Gambian nation in total disregard of the blood and tears that our people had to shed in the hands of the tyrant they now cherish.
I call on all companies, NGOs, individuals and public institutions not to buy or advertise with the Daily Observer ever again until the Daily Observer withdraw that Yaya Jammeh celebration and apologize to the people of the Gambia and never to do it again. The time has come for us to take our destiny in our own hands. We must therefore never ever allow any government, any president, any NGO, any imam, any company and indeed any media house to ever again ridicule our dignity and destroy our rights and our lives. Daily Observer has confirmed that they are a direct accomplice in the murder of Gambians and this must be addressed. Never ever patronize the Daily Observer!
In that same vein, I call on the President of the Gambia Press Union Emil Touray to summon the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Observer to demand a retraction and apology to the media fraternity. The Daily Observer has endangered and weakened the GPU and the entire media community by their despicable action. At this very moment the GPU is before the Supreme Court to deal with some of the bad laws of Yaya Jammeh hence we cannot have a media practitioner who could at the same time celebrate Yaya Jammeh. That is a painful paradox and insult!
There is freedom of expression and freedom of the media but these do not include the freedom to aid and abet a dictator. That is propaganda, sycophancy and direct threat to the rights and lives of citizens hence criminal. Yaya Jammeh represents the destruction of the media and no amount of free press allows a journalist to celebrate a predator of the press. If such a journalist should celebrate a violator of media freedom then all journalists must disassociate themselves from that journalist.
Finally I call on all those Daily Observer journalists who have conscience and uphold the freedom of the media to protest against their newspaper and demand a retraction and an apology. Stay away from work or issue a petition for the resignation of your Editor-in-Chief or resign altogether from this mercenary newspaper. Do not let your career be stained by this gutter journalism. Stand with your fallen colleagues and remember that you could have been Chief Manneh or Deyda Hydara or any of those victims. How do you think Deyda or Chief Manneh is feeling today? How would you have felt if you were shot or tortured to death by Yaya Jammeh only to realize that today your own newspaper was celebrating that very Yaya Jammeh? Have conscience and stand up to defend press freedom and national sovereignty.
God Bless The Gambia.