Local media and online news outlets reported that the Sinchu Alagie-based FM station, also known as The Voice Echoing from Kombo North, was shut on Thursday January 1, 2015, two days after an armed assault on Gambia’s presidential palace masterminded by external forces of Gambian origin.
The station went off air for about 72 hours before hitting back the airwaves on Sunday, January 5 without its widely followed news broadcasts.
“I am currently listening to Taranga FM, but they are only playing music,” a journalist investigating the recent reports of closure told FPI on Sunday. “I understand the station have been asked by the authorities to drop its news programmes, but can play music.”
The station manager Alagie Ceesay was arrested, grilled and detained overnight on Thursday following the management’s announcement of its website launch and 24-hours of broadcasting, according to media reports.
This is the third time the radio has been forced to halt its operations, according to FPI research.
After 32 days off air, in February 2011, Taranga FM reopened when Gambian authorities issued a warning to the station’s management to stop reviewing what it described as “opposition newspapers”.
The station resumed operations without its popular “Xibaribesbi”, a news and current affairs programme in which it reviewed local English-language newspapers, translating content in the Wolof language for most uneducated Gambians.
In January 2014, Taranga was allowed to resume operations by Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh after being shut for more than two years.
The station, broadcasting on the frequency modulation band 97.5, was closed on August 14, 2012 when the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) raided its offices. It had widely covered at the time a critical national media discourse on the execution of nine inmates on the orders of the country’s president.
A presidential statement stated that Taranga was “free to operate but… within the framework of the laws governing the media in this country.”
Rights groups said “the closure of [Taranga] and two newspapers (The Daily News and The Standard) brings undue interference in press freedom and freedom of expression and deprived Gambians of their rights to know and to have access to information.”
According to ARTICLE 19 West Africa, that closure fall short of meeting standards provided for by the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the ICCPR.
This Covenant requires under its part one (1) of a three-part test “that any restriction to the right to freedom of expression be carried out in accordance to a law, not as a result of an arbitrary decision.”
Taranga FM is one of two privately-owned radio stations that run news programmes, while almost 20 other stations only run music and sports programmes which attract little attention for possible crackdown.