Gambia blocks RFI broadcasts

New York, January 22, 2008–Gambian authorities have shut down Radio France Internationale (RFI) broadcasts in Banjul, local journalists and the Gambian Press Union told CPJ.

The RFI relay transmitter was blocked by Gambian authorities after the Paris-based station reported that three suspected murderers of four French tourists in Mauritania had fled south through The Gambia into Guinea-Bissau.

A statement from the Department of State for Communications, Information, and Technology issued six days after the station’s closure, on January 21, denied RFI’s report. The statement countered that the Mauritanian fugitives had fled to Guinea-Bissau through Senegal, as reported by France 24 and BBC, and added that the government was “looking forward” to RFI “correcting” its report.

“Gambia has a history of closing down independent radio stations, and RFI is yet another victim of the government’s draconian restriction of the media,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The Gambian authorities must lift the ban immediately and allow the public access to one of the few independent news sources available on the country’s airwaves.”

The RFI transmitter is housed within the premises of the government-controlled Radio Gambia, local journalists told CPJ. RFI broadcasted English news bulletins three times a day through Radio Gambia.

In 2001, the government closed down private radio station Citizen FM for alleged non-payment of taxes. Four years later, the Gambian branch of the Senegalese private radio station Sud FM was closed down by the Gambian government after Information Minister Neneh Mcdoll-Gaye accused the station of “inciting trouble” between the two countries.

However, a new online independent radio station, Radio Alternative Voice, was launched January 13 in Dakar and, like its predecessor Citizen FM, broadcasts its programs in three languages–Wolof, Mandinka, and English. According to reporters working at the new station, the station broadcasts in partnership with Senegalese private stations whose signals reach The Gambia.