By Momodou Jarju
The former Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, testified before the Truth Commission (TRRC) on Wednesday July 10th that the state media (Daily Observer and GRTS), were ex-president Yahya Jammeh’s kingdom.
Demba Ali Jawo said both the electronic and the print media were solely in favor of the previous regime in its operations; that anytime the opposition parties were mentioned on state media, means something negative, citing cross-carpeting as an example.
“The state media was transformed into mouthpiece of the regime. Everything that was said by them is in favor of the regime. There was hardly any mention of the opposition or anybody who has a contrary view of what the regime was saying or doing,” he said. He continued: “The state media was virtually seen as the personal fiefdom of former President Yahya Jammeh and his regime, but certainly not the taxpayers who were funding it. They hardly had access to it.”
Jawo who was also a former editor at the former ‘Daily Observer’ Newspaper, said the private media and journalists found it difficult to operate because access to information from the former Government was hard; that Government officials hardly talk to them to get their sides of the stories. Jawo said it was a difficult situation to deal with and journalists somehow managed to survive in the hands of a powerful enemy and the hostile atmosphere created for them.
He however said the killing of Dayda Hydara deduced the morale of journalists; that some journalists had to flee the country while others quit the industry; but that others stayed and continued the struggle.
Continuing his testimony, Jawo said the human rights situation worsen gradually when the former Junta members took over power. He said the relationship between the press and the junta was quite good but the honeymoon did not last long.
“Initially when the junta took over, the relationship with the press was quiet cozy. I can recall few days after they took over, they were trying to paint the previous regime as ‘black’. That was how they quote it, giving us all kinds of information. One time we were just called to State House because then the Chairman of the AFPRC who was Jammeh, wanted to meet the press and give us some evidence of corruption and other bad things that the previous regime did,” he said. He said the Junta used the press to popularize itself in order for the international committee to accept what they were saying. But that eventually, it did not last long when journalists realize that they had to be independent in their work.
Commenting on the draconian media laws that the Junta put in place to stifle the media, Jawo said they were promulgating decrees that were anti-press, noting that the first journalists to be troubled were Halifa Sallah and Sidia Jatta. He said the decree was aimed at banning political activities and restricting the media from covering political activities which Sallah and Jatta defied and were arrested and eventually charged and taken to court. Jawo said he was forced to challenge the former regime’s National Media Commission Act which was promulgated in 2002, while serving as the then president of the GPU; that the Act was like a tribunal where journalists can be taken to court and be imprisoned for writing something that the former Government was not happy with. “It was a very draconian piece of legislation and the GPU decided to challenge the Law at the Supreme Court,” he said. Jawo, who has authored some books, said the repressiveness of the Act made it to be thrown out of Court. He said the government increased the bond for the registration of Newspapers.
Quizzed about his take on the slow pace of ongoing media law reforms, Jawo agreed that the pace is slow; but that while he was Minister, they started the process by involving the GPU; that he is sure that the process is ongoing and is certain that it will be accomplished.
He said his detention at the NIA had some impact on his family but they understood his situation because they knew he was a journalist.