By Madi Jobarteh

Minister Ebrima Sillah should apologize immediately to Gambians for his anti-media stance since he took over the position of Minister of Information. The fact that Sillah called the MD of QTV to raise concern about the Esau Williams interview amounted to interference with freedom of the media and imposing censorship. That call is an indirect pressure that sent a coded message to QTV to remove that interview from their YouTube platform. Therefore, it is utterly disingenuous for the Minister to sit before Fatu Network to try to rationalize, distort, mislead and deny his anti-media track record.

If Minister Sillah was not happy with the opinions expressed by Esau Williams in QTV’s Viewpoint show, all he needed to do is to ask QTV to give him a right of reply or use his weekly press briefing to respond to Esau as much as he likes. Therefore, Ebrima Sillah acted unethically to have called QTV. Evidently the Minister therefore infringed upon freedom of the media and freedom of expression for which he must apologize. I hereby call on GPU to send a note of concern to Minister Sillah to ask him to refrain from such underhand tactics just to stifle the media.

In this Fatu Network interview, just as in his interview of Coffee Time with Peter Gomez on West Coast Radio last Tuesday, Sillah spared no effort in lambasting and impugning the character of Esau Williams. Why should a Minister of Information, a journalist himself by trade, go after the person of a citizen for his opinions? Why is Ebrima Sillah seeking to undermine the integrity and professionalism of Esau Williams by referring to his work with the BBC. If indeed what Sillah said is true, I am sure Esau Williams knows the terms of employment of BBC hence he would not have violated those terms because Esau is a responsible gentleman. If he did, then by now BBC would have reprimanded, stopped and even sacked Esau Williams. But until today, BBC has not done that and Esau continues to do his job. Therefore, Esau has not violated any law at BBC.

Let me inform Ebrima Sillah that he is not supportive of free press in this country since he became Minister, contrary to his false claim that he stands for a free press. I know this because Sillah had expressed his anti-media stance to me. He had told me, sometime ago about his discomfort with radio talk show hosts that he believes must be controlled. He said some of these radio talk show hosts are not experts and so they cannot just speak about any issues without bringing in experts.

I retorted to him that radio commentators such as Pa Modou Bojang of Membekering radio or Pa Nderry Touray of Star FM or Peter Gomez of West Coast among others do not need to bring any expert. I reminded him that you have radio and television talk show hosts such as Kouthia in Senegal who speaks about every and any issue on TFM television in Senegal everyday and he is not an expert in everything. You have similar talk show hosts across Africa and the world. So why shouldn’t the Gambia have talk show hosts who just speak their mind from anthropology to zoology? I found his concern to be indeed worrying because it is undemocratic and anti media.

If the Government feels a talk show host is spreading wrong information about the Government, then let the Government refute the information. That’s all. The Gambia Government has so many media platforms to use including a Spokesman who writes even better than Shakespeare to respond. Therefore, Ebrima Sillah’s claim that he is for the freedom of the media is unfounded. He is not. The evidence is all over.

For example, when two radio stations were closed arbitrarily and their journalists arrested and detained in January 2020, Ebrima was not outraged about that. Otherwise he would have immediately demanded the IGP to leave the stations alone and to demand accountability for such authoritarian action. Ebrima should have resigned at that very moment unless the radio stations were opened. But Ebrima failed to resign and rather allowed the stations to remain closed for weeks until GPU had to threaten action leading to the National Human Rights Commission to intervene. That was shameful of the Minister.

Since he assumed office, which legal reform has this Minister spearheaded in order to greater protection and promotion of the freedom of the media? All the draconian anti media laws are still in place! In the Criminal Code, Information and Communications Act, the PURA Act as well as in the Newspaper Act, there are multiple anti-media provisions until today. Why has Minister Sillah failed to immediately cause those bad law to change? Because he is not interested in free media.

That the Gambia Government is corrupt is clear as noon day. This is confirmed by the Gambia Government itself. Not long ago, the Minister of Health stood on the floor of the National Assembly to acknowledge corruption. Well before that, in 2018 the Ministry of Finance commissioned a forensic audit of seven state-owned enterprises which showed massive corruption. Until today no action was taken to ensure accountability. Just recently the Auditor General acknowledged massive corruption as the Gambia Government refuses to implement his recommendations to ensure transparency and accountability.

All of these are different from the so-called anonymous donors, the Chinese money in FABB account or the dubious contracts to Semlex, Banjul Road Project, diplomatic passports, COVID funds, mining, and now Securiport at the airport, among many others. Therefore, why should Ebrima Sillah deny that corruption is in his Government? Indeed honesty is not common to all human beings.

Therefore I put it to Ebrima Sillah that what Esau Williams said that there is corruption in the Gambia Government is absolutely true.

I hope Fatu Network will also give me an exclusive interview as they gave to Minister Ebrima Sillah so that I can respond to his unfounded, misleading and hypocritical statements. Until then this is my initial response to the Minster.

For The Gambia Our Homeland