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Madagascar11 April 2002

Abuse of Press Freedoms

image 85 x 119 (JPEG) image 88 x 123 (JPEG) Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) is requesting that the two protagonists in the present crisis-Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana-make every effort to ensure that journalists can carry on their work in the country in total freedom and safety. RSF specifically urges these two political leaders to call upon their militants and sympathizers to remain calm and not to interfere with freedom of expression. "The plurality of information sources is primordial in such a turbulent period and both leaders must do whatever is necessary to ensure that all voices can be heard without fear in the country," stated Robert Ménard, the organization’s General Secretary. Ever since the state of national emergency was declared on 22 February 2002, a dozen radio stations have been plundered or set on fire, and several journalists have been threatened or assaulted. The recent announcement by a private radio station that its news programmes would be suspended proves that threats and pressures still persist in this country.

RSF also reminds the authorities that State media must serve the public and not an individual or party. Public press journalists must be free to report the news as they see fit and to cover events occurring in both camps.

Lastly, the organization appeals to the journalists present on the island to exert extreme care in gathering and verifying information. One local daily in March asserted that "the radios on each side are spreading false information and inciting hatred." Rumours are easily spread in times of crisis and journalists must scrupulously abide by their professional ethics and rules of conduct.

Recapitulation of the main facts: According to information gathered by the RSF, on 8 April 2002, the private Radio-Television Analamanga (RTA) network announced that it would drop its news flash because of "telephone threats" and "threats against journalists." According to one press release, the radio station had taken the liberty of "merely providing information and had not slanted it in favour of, or against, any individual, entity or party."

In addition, on 16 March, some soldiers ransacked the offices of Radio Soleil, which is owned by a pro-Ravalomanana member of the Malagasy National Assembly. Two days later, the same servicemen returned to the premises to destroy the rest of the equipment.

On 27 February, Radio Tsiokavao was set on fire by Ravalomanana sympathizers. The station’s offices were totally destroyed by the blaze. Radio Tsiokavao is a Didier Ratsiraka supporter. "We did that to avenge the fire at MBS radio station," declared one of the perpetrators of the Agence France-Presse fire.

During the night of 23 February, a dozen hooded men attacked Marc Ravalomanana’s Madagascar Broadcasting Service (MBS) radio station facilities in Fianarantsoa (300 km south of Antananarivo). The offices were set on fire and three night watchmen sustained serious injuries. "We have been hiding inside the station offices for three days because we feared for our lives," one editor-in-chief of a Madagascan daily newspaper had stated at the time.

On 20 February, some high school students cutting classes stoned the offices of the Amoron’i Mania Radio-Television (Art) station in Ambositra les Roses (south of Antsirabe). The students were protesting against what they considered overly partisan news coverage by the station, which is owned by Didier Ratsiraka’s Prime Minister.

Finally, on 2 February, Lieutenant-Colonel Coutiti, the Information Minister’s Technical Advisor, confiscated equipment belonging to FM 91, a private radio station in Nosy Be (an island off northern Madagascar), and closed down the station. FM 91 is owned by a provincial councillor who supports Marc Ravalomanana.

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