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Country's oldest privately-owned radio station suspended, faces possible closure

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called on Chad's High Council of Communications (Haut Conseil de la communication, HCC) to rescind its week-long suspension of the privately-owned non-profit radio station DJA FM. The station was suspended from 17 to 24 January 2005. The organisation also urged the regulatory body to withdraw its threat to close down the station permanently if it is unable to pay its annual dues.

"This is the first time the HCC has taken such as decision and its effect could be dramatic, as the HCC is well aware that the country's 13 privately-owned radio stations are operating in a very difficult economic context," RSF said.

"If DJA FM and other stations are forced to close, this will constitute a serious blow to free expression and news diversity in Chad," the organisation warned, while urging the authorities to demonstrate their support for press freedom by allowing DJA FM to resume broadcasting. RSF suggested that DJA FM be allowed to pay its annual dues in several installments.

Zara Yacoub, the station's president, learned of the suspension just three days before it was due to take effect.

"DJA FM broadcasts are suspended for a period of eight days, from Monday 17 January to Monday 24 January inclusive, for failure to resolve its financial situation under the regulations for privately-owned radio stations," an HCC statement said, while warning that DJA FM will be subject to withdrawal of its operating licence if its refusal to resolve its situation continued. The annual licencing fees for a radio station are 500,000 CFA francs (approx. US$990; 760 euros).

In letters to the HCC president in November and December 2004, Yacoub specified that DJA FM was not refusing pay its dues, but that the station's failure to do so was "simply [due to] a cruel lack of financial resources."

Yacoub is also president of the Chad Union of Privately-Owned Radio Stations (URPT). She also said that at a meeting with the HCC president, DJA FM had offered to pay its dues as soon as it received the government subsidy for privately-owned radio stations, and noted that this proposal was repeated in the station's first letter. "The HCC is bent on eliminating DJA FM for undeclared reasons," Yacoub concluded.

Launched in 1999, DJA FM was Chad's first privately-owned radio station. Since its formation in 1995, the HCC had never suspended a news media outlet for non-payment of licencing fees.

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