Hundreds of mourners gathered at the late George Christensen‘s house and attended a church service in Fajara on Friday to pay their last respect to the legendary broadcast journalist.
Mr. Christensen, 64, died on June 3, 2016 when he returned to Banjul after attending the second ‘International Civil Society Forum on The Gambia’ in Dakar, Senegal ahead of the ECOWAS Summit.
Local journalists in Banjul say his death is a “big loss” and has brought “sad times” for the Gambian media.
His coffin was covered with a white piece of cloth that carried his name, age, a logo of The Gambia Press Union and the inscription: “Defender of Freedom of Expression.”
His wife, Mary Samba-Christensen, says George was ‘a loving husband, he was tolerant, supportive and a mentor.”
“We came from completely different backgrounds and religions but we were able to blend our differences and have a harmonious relationship. This enabled us to celebrate Easter, Christmas, Koriteh and Tobaski (the two Muslim feasts) with both of our extended families,” she says.
The veteran radio journalist, commonly referred to as Uncle George by young journalists, trained some of the finest journalists, and bloggers in The Gambia – some of whom owned radio stations and online multimedia news outlets.
Also, he had served for several years as Consul, representing the Ghanaian Government in The Gambia.
His son, Carl Yazid Christensen, described him as a “revolutionary” and “brilliant journalist”, and his daughter, Diana Mariam Christensen, simply referred to his father as a “great man, a philanthropist.”
“My dad also taught my brothers and I to always be firm in our beliefs and never compromise ourselves to fit in with general opinion,” she says.
In 1990, George Christensen and his wife established Radio 1 FM – the first private FM station owned by a Gambian. Radio 1, which broadcast on the frequency modulation (FM) band 102.1, became the second private radio station in The Gambia following the establishment of Radio Syd in 1970 in Banjul by Swedish inventor Mr. Wadner.
Mr. Christensen was known to be an ardent advocate for press freedom and freedom of expression and had endured burns and questioning in attacks including arson on his radio. Like journalists of his generation, Mr. Christensen has been a survivor of violations of press freedom.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in a 2007 publication, The Gambia – Violations of Press Freedom 1994-2006, documented the following: “On August 10, 2001, unknown assailants attempted to burn down Radio 1 FM. In the process, Mr. Christensen sustained burns on his body and was hospitalized for days…”
His radio station has never fully recovered from that attack and has been off air since. Attempts to return on air didn’t last long. Also, journalists working for Radio 1 have faced arson attacks and death threats.
“Shortly after that [attack on Radio 1], one of the staff, Alieu Bah who earlier received a letter threatening his life had his house set on fire while he and his family were asleep inside. Neighbours helped put [off] the fire before it caused serious damage.
“In May 2001, Seedy Ceesay, a reporter with Radio 1 FM, received a death threat sent to his postal address by an anonymous person. The envelope contained a drawing of a big hand holding a head, with the message ‘Seedy, leave this work now. You’ll soon be in this state’”.
Thirteen days after the assault on his radio, on October 23, 2001 “George Christensen was arrested and taken to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). He was released a few hours after being questioned about his radio station’s financial situation.”
George Christensen, who was born on 17th September, 1951, was finally laid to rest at the Banjul Cemetery on Friday, 10 June 2016 at around 7pm.