- The environment for Madagascar's opposition and private media is getting harsher as yet another opposition radio station has been ordered to close by the Communication Minister. 'Radio Say', which is closed to ousted ex-President Ratsiraka, was accused of spreading false news and thereby closed down.
On 28 June, Malagasy Communications Minister Clermont Gervais Mahazaka ordered the closure of 'Radio Say' for the alleged "broadcasting false news, defamation and insults against the speaker of the National Assembly and a member of the government, and breach of operating terms and conditions."
Located in Tuléar, a coastal city in southern Madagascar, 'Radio Say' was ordered to cease broadcasting following a visit to the city by a government delegation. The delegation had come to investigate a grenade attack that took place on 25 June, during Independence Day celebrations, in which one person was killed and about 30 others injured.
Minister Mahazaka ordered 'Radio Say' closed until further notice, "despite the fact that no link has been made between the attack and the station's activities," according to information gathered by the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). The Minister had not provided "any evidence to support the closure," RSF maintains.
'Radio Say' is a private radio station known for its independent editorial stance. It is owned by a former minister who is an associate of Didier Ratsiraka, who governed Madagascar from 1975 to 1993 and again from 1995 to 2002.
Ex-President Ratsiraka was defeated in the last elections, losing to current head of state Marc Ravalomanana, but he refused to hand over powers and thus caused several months of turmoil in the country. Following defeat on the battlefield, Mr Ratsiraka fled the country and lives in French exile. If he returns to Madagascar, he will face criminal charges.
According to RSF, the closure of 'Radio Say' is not an isolated act. Since Mr Mahazaka's appointment as Communications Minister at the beginning of 2004, "there have been several recorded attacks on freedom of information," the French media watchdog group says.
- Private media outlets in the country have not previously faced such harassment or restrictions in carrying out their work, RSF adds in a statement released yesterday.
In February, 'Radio Sava' was also ordered closed. The station's owner is Pety Rakotoniaina, mayor of Fianarantsoa and a former supporter of President Ravalomanana, who has since joined the opposition. 'Radio Sava' has yet to resume its activities.
In addition, the daily 'La Gazette de la Grande Île' received an official warning from Minister Mahazaka after it published a statement by National Assembly Speaker Jean Lahiniriko, announcing the death of one of the victims of the Tuléar attack.
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