- The government of Senegal on Thursday deployed a large contingent of armed soldiers to shut off the set up privately-owned radio station in the capital Dakar on Thursday.
Transmitting on 92.3, 'Premier FM' is owned by a prominent Senegalese journalist, Madiambal Diagne. Mr Diagne is also the publisher of two daily papers – Le Quotidien and Cocorico – and a weekly magazine. Cocorico, a satirical paper, hits the newspaper market this month.
His radio that started test signals on Tuesday has been waiting to be launched when its proprietor was asked to vanish from the air. Prior to the closure, four truckloads of armed soldiers stormed the premises of Avenir Communications, the company that administers Mr Diagne’s media business.
Gun-wielding soldiers could be calmly seen inside their vehicles while their commander and officials of the national telecommunications and stations regulatory authority were busy confronting Mr Digane.
“Mr Diagne was asked to remove the station from the air but he refused asking them to do it themselves,” said a staff of 'Le Quotidien.'
After a hasty discussion, the officers went away with the station’s apparatus, leaving it off air.
Before the radio hits the airwaves, Mr Diagne commented on the development, recounting the official rough track the company had trekked on to get a radio frequency from the government. He said the radio project had been a long term dream of his company because it had first requested for a frequency from the Information Minister in November 2003.
Diagne said the request was flatly denied for no just cause. But the company kept on the throat of the government so that they could at least issue allow the radio to cover only Dakar and its environment. This too fell on deaf ears, for they were told that the Dakar frequency is saturated.
“We then asked for a frequency to emit in the areas while waiting for that the problem in Dakar to be regulated,” Mr. Diagne said, adding, “this too has been unsuccessful.” Mr Diagne would not understand why others have been issued frequencies, despite denying him the right.
The company did not fold its hands and said enough is enough as in the case of so many people. With the belief that radio is a power tool to better inform, educate and entertain a society, especially at a time the country is going through elections, Avenir Communications then sought possible alternatives. This led to the buying of a local company with a frequency.
But this too is without official complaints that the transmitter is very close to the airport track. It is not clear whether Senegalese authorities will allow the radio to resume operations.
The new radio is being administered by a doyen broadcaster - Michel Diouf – a pioneer founder member of 'Sud FM' and Manager of 'Radio Television Senegalaise' (RTS).
Mr Diouf’s main ambition is to turn the new radio into a credible voice of truth by relaying factual and well researched human interest stories to audience of Premier FM.
“We want to merge our ambition with out name. We want to be one of the leaders of broadcasting in the country,” he said.
Some months back, Diagne reportedly snubbed an audience with President Abdoulaye Wade.
On 9 July 2004, Madiambal Diagne, also a law expert, was arrested and detained for over 20 days without trial. He was later charged with publishing confidential reports and correspondence, false information and news "which could cause serious political problems."
His arrest and detention spurred the Senegalese privately-owned media to stage a day's news blackout in protest against what they called “the political arrest of our colleague.”
The media guru’s case had concerned the international media bodies, including the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) that petitioned the Senegalese Prime Minister, Macky Sall, reminding him that the “jailing of Mr Diagne for his journalistic activities constitutes a clear breach of his right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international agreements, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Furthermore, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights considers that "detention, as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion, is one of the most reprehensible ways to enjoin silence and, as a consequence, a grave violation of human rights".
WAN urged Senegal to immediately release Mr Diagne from jail and drop all criminal charges against him. “We urge you to do everything possible to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of expression.”
Senegal, one of Africa's biggest democracies, is becoming intolerant to free expreesion and speech.
While on official trip to Mauritania, President Wade was asked why his government had deviated from his promise that his government would never send a journalist in prison. His reply was thus: "Senegalese journalists don't respect the law."
The Wade government has increased the annual subvention to the press as well as started building a magnificient press house for journalists.
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