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Three radio stations closed indefinitely

(RSF/IFEX) - Three privately-owned radio stations in the port city of Toamasina, on Madagascar's eastern coast, have been closed by government authorities after broadcasting statements by opposition figures. Radio Ny Antsika (RNA), Sky FM and Radio Feon'i Toamasina (RFT) have been off the air since 10 December 2004. The stations' management has been summoned to police headquarters for questioning.

"We believe that the broadcast of this type of interview is merely the expression of a diversity of opinions which must be allowed to exist in Madagascar if a free and pluralist information base is to be maintained," RSF said in a letter to Telecommunications, Postal and Communications Minister Bruno Ramaroson Andriantavison. "For this reason, we ask that these three radio stations be allowed to return to the air immediately and that RFT's and RNA's transmitters be returned to them by local authorities."

The three stations were reportedly closed for the same reasons: "failure to obtain an operating licence from the Special Commission on Audiovisual Communication" and "failure to comply with Article 95 of the 14 September 1992 Ordinance no. 92-03 on Audiovisual Communications". Article 95 deals specifically with comments deemed to be of a "tribalist" nature. In the letter to Sky FM ordering the closure of the station, the two opposition commentators were accused of fomenting unrest by their "tribalist comments".

After listening to the broadcasts in question, the Association of Private Radio Broadcasters (l'Association des journalistes des radios privées, AJRP) said that, in their judgement, there was nothing in the content sufficient to warrant a station's closure. The AJRP also stressed that "confiscation of [broadcasting] equipment and other assets from a radio station may only take place if the station has defaulted on payment of a judicially-ordered fine." The AJRP went on to say that "it is the responsibility of independent and specialised agencies to order media outlet closures - this should never be up to the simple, arbitrary will of the executive."

The censoring of the three stations is not an isolated action. In June, former comminications minister Clermont Gervais Mahazaka ordered the closure of Radio Say, an independent station known for being outspoken. Such censorship has particularly damaging repercussions in a country where the illiteracy rate is high and radio remains the primary source of information.

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