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Surinam15 May 2007

TV programme’s withdrawal at Vice-President’s behest condemned as censorship

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a decision by the state-owned Surinam Television Foundation (STVS) to cancel its “Surinam Today” discussion programme on 10 May under direct pressure from Vice-President Ram Sardjoe. The offending programme was about China-Taiwan relations.

“This was an act of censorship,” the press freedom organisation said. “The strategic interests between Surinam and China cited by Vice-President Sardjoe are not grounds for government meddling in a news media’s programming, even a public one. We also condemn the pressure which STVS apparently received from Chinese diplomats in Paramaribo. We hope the debate will be broadcast subsequently.”

Although Taiwan established itself as a separate political entity in 1949, it is still regarded as part of China by the government in Beijing. The vice-president cited political and commercial interests with China when he urged “Surinam Today” producer and editor Nita Ramcharan to kill the 10 May edition. After Ramcharan refused, Sardjoe got the STVS management to cancel the programme.

Ramcharan said one of the journalists who had interviewed Chinese ambassador Su Ge for the programme later received telephone threats from diplomats, who said they did not the interview to be used in any programme in which pro-Taiwan advocates appeared. They even went to the station’s studios to put pressure on the management.

The producers of “Surinam Today” have described the programme’s withdrawal as a violation of free speech. Sardjoe responded: “I regret that the producers think they have been censored, but the government must look to the country’s interests.” He also claimed that, rather than ban the programme, he just “strongly requested” that the subject be treated “with care.” He also insisted that his intervention “was not a form of censorship [or even] a restriction of the right of expression.”

This is the second time that President Ronald Venetiaan’s government has had public TV content changed.

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