Reporters Without Borders today condemned the imposition of prior censorship on the print media and a ban on sensitive issues on private radio stations under a state of emergency in the capital, N’Djamena, and six of the country’s regions, which the government decreed yesterday in response to the serious intercommunal violence of the past few weeks.
“The return of censorship is unacceptable, and we appeal to the Chadian government to adopt a different way of working with the press during this trying period in the country’s history,” the press freedom organisation said. “Emergency measures to control news and information is not an appropriate response to the problems Chad faces. On the contrary, it will exacerbate tension and foster polarisation, and will not stop information getting out.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “This retrograde step is above all the result of the collapse of the dialogue between the government and privately-owned media. Everyone agrees that we would not be where we are now if mechanisms had been established in Chad for the regulation and self-regulation of the media.”
The state of emergency was proclaimed at the end of a specially-convened cabinet meeting yesterday. A government statement said it was needed to deal with the bloodshed in which more than 300 people have been killed since 31 October in clashes between Arab and non-Arab communities, above all in the east of the country near the border with Sudan.
The decree reintroduced “prior censorship” for privately-owned newspaper and a ban on “radio stations dealing with matters liable to jeopardise public order, national unity, territorial integrity and respect for the republic’s institutions.” The government added that the measures “are due to the fact that government’s repeated warnings and all the recommendations of the High Council for Communication (HCC) are regularly defied.”
Under the new measures, the distribution of privately-owned newspapers will require permission from a special unit within the ministry of communication, to which editors will have to submit a provisional copy of each issue. Chad thus becomes one of the world’s very few countries to subject the privately-owned press to prior censorship.
After visiting N’Djamena in September 2005, Reporters Without Borders submitted proposals for reforming Chad’s press legislation and recommendations for improving relations between the government and privately-owned media to the Union of Chadian Journalists (UJT). Negotiations between the UJT and the ministry of communication began after the visit but did not result in any consensus.