- After airing a commercial by civil society groups, criticising a constitutional amendment, a privately-owned radio station in N'djamena has been threatened with closure. The broadcasted ad said Chadians should protest the amendment, which may provide President Idriss Deby with a lifetime presidency.
President Moussa Dago of Chad's High Council for Communications (Haut conseil de la communication, HCC) last week threatened to order the closure of 'FM Liberté', a community radio station based in the capital, N'djamena.
In a letter to 'FM Liberté's' director, the Council's president criticised the station for airing a commercial, between 19 and 25 May, in which a collective of civil society groups commented on the draft amendment to the country's Constitution.
The Council's letter said the commercial was "of a political nature," thereby violating the broadcast law governing private radio stations in the country and opening the door to penalties, according to reports from the Kinshasa-based watchdog group Journaliste en danger (JED).
In their commercial, the civil society groups urged Chadian citizens to launch a one-day strike action and reject the proposed constitutional amendment. Also the Chadian opposition had called the nation's citizens to mark their protest by a general strike on 26 May, which also was widely observed in N'djamena.
The commercial said the purpose of the constitutional amendment is to allow President Idris Deby to extend his mandate indefinitely. On 26 May, the Chadian parliament approved of the amendment, which changes the current two-term limit for the presidential office with a 70-year age limit.
The amendment was only approved after the entire opposition walked out of parliament in protest, announcing it would call for a national strike. Chad's opposition - held down by unfree elections - is too small to hinder constitutional amendments.
The last change to stop the amendment is during a referendum, which is to be held in the near future. The opposition and several civil society groups have vowed to campaign for a "no" during the referendum, but see their work jeopardised as they are hindered from reaching national media. Political issues are prohibited on private Chadian broadcast media.
Commenting on the Council's accusations and threat, 'FM Liberté' editor-in-chief Evariste Ngaralbaye said that the statement concerning the constitutional amendment "was not made in the context of a political programme or news bulletin, but was just like any other regular paid commercial."
- We consider it to be nothing more that an announcement bringing in revenue for the station, Mr Ngaralbaye told JED. The editor could face closure of his radio station, heavy fines and even imprisonment if the Council sees the issue in another way.
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