- Up to 60 independent media now risk being closed down by authorities in Togo. Seven privately-owned radio stations and two independent television stations have already been closed by Togo's new rulers on pretexts ranging from "inciting revolt" to alleged fiscal irregularities since President Eyadéma's death on 5 February.
In a communiqué broadcast on state radio yesterday, Togo's Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ART&P) warned about possible new closures of privately-owned media. ART&P, which is the independent body set up in Togo to regulate the media, took responsibility for the seven closures already implemented.
ART&P in the statement claimed the wave of closures "[had been] programmed some time ago and [had been] discussed with the representative of the Union of Independent Radio and Television Stations of Togo (URATEL) at least six months ago."
The statement continued, "Despite repeated warnings to URATEL's president, around 60 of the 87 privately-owned radio and television stations have not deigned to honour their obligations." It concluded that, "this programme [of closures] will extend in the coming days to all the provincial radio and television stations that are not up to date with their payments."
Media freedom groups, as the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), however claim that the many forced closures are nothing else that a "wave of censorship" that began on 5 February, after President Gnassingbé Eyadéma's death and the takeover by his son, Faure Gnassingbé. "It is now clear that the authorities intend to silence all intractable news media," RSF said in a statement today.
ART&P was just "doing the government's dirty work," the group continued. "Nobody is fooled by the high-handed and hypocritical procedures being used to censor the opposition media, and we voice our full support for the Togolese press and journalists' groups which are getting caught up in an increasingly alarming spiral," the RSF statement said.
Contacted by RSF about the ART&P communiqué, URATEL President Jacques Djakouti confirmed that negotiations had begun between the ART&P and media outlets that were behind in their payments. "Many radio stations proposed a payment schedule and had begun to pay their debts when the negotiations were abruptly broken off a few days ago. The demand was then suddenly made for all debts to be paid at once and in full," Mr Djakouti said.
'Nana FM' station manager Peter Dogbé, Secretary-General of the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (UJIT), said the ART&P communiqué was intended to sabotage the negotiations. "I proposed a payment schedule on 25 January which, if adhered to, would have meant that all of my station's arrears would have been paid by 31 May, including what is owed for 2005," he told RSF. "But I never received a response to my proposal."
Meanwhile, according to information obtained from a number of radio stations, the orders closing the stations were dated 11 February, while the ART&P communiqué supposedly justifying their closure is dated 14 February.
Three Togolese organisations - UJIT, URATEL and the Togolese Media Watchdog (Observatoire Togolais des Médias, OTM) - condemned the wave of closures in a joint statement issued on 16 February, saying it had come "at a moment when the nation is experiencing an unprecedented crisis and the public is in great need of quick and credible news and information."
The statement further said the crackdown was designed to "reverse Togo's recent press freedom gains" and raised concerns about "the future possibilities for the media to promote diversity of opinion in our country."
Following the closures of 'Radio Nana FM', 'Radio Kanal FM', 'Radio Nostalgie', 'Radio Lumière' and the television station 'TV7' between 6 and 11 February, three more radio stations and a television station were closed on 15 February: 'Radio Carré Jeune', 'Radio Zion' and 'Télévision Zion', all pro-opposition, and 'Radio Djabal'nour', a Muslim station.
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