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MEDIA PRESSURED OVER FOOD CRISIS

In Niger, where the U.N. has stepped in to provide food aid in response to a serious food crisis, authorities have been pressuring journalists to toe the government line and penalizing those who report critically on the situation, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

Until recently, the government has denied the existence of a crisis, despite warnings by media, U.N. officials and aid agencies.

It was the media that first alerted the country to the existence of a food crisis, says MFWA. The government weekly "Sahel Dimanche" first reported the crisis in a 29 April 2005 report. Shortly after, Tchirgni Maïmouna, the editor-in-chief, was fired.

The article was followed by reports from Radio France International (RFI) correspondent Donaig Le Du, who travelled to the worst affected areas and showed how international aid agencies were responding to the emergency. Le Du was later accused on state television of tarnishing Niger's image.

Despite efforts by the authorities to deny the existence of the food crisis, independent media published more articles on the situation, including photographs of starving people, says MFWA. Private radio stations allowed the stricken population to speak about the crisis. Independent television station TENERE reported on a camp established by the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans frontières) in Maradi and other regions.

Other journalists have been investigating and questioning the distribution of aid into the country, with some suggesting that ruling party officials have been diverting foreign aid to their supporters, notes IPI.

Hamed Assaleh Raliou, director of the independent radio station Sahara FM, faces legal charges following a complaint filed by the governor of the Agadez region, Yahaya Yandaka. Raliou had claimed in an RFI report that the governor had funneled aid provisions to administrative officials and traditional leaders instead of giving them to needy victims.

Abdoulaye Harouna, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly "Echos Express", also faces prison and fines because of his newspaper's reports on Yandaka. In Harouna's case, the prosecutor asked for a four-month prison term, and a US$19,000 fine. The judge in the case is due to give his verdict on 27 September.

Meanwhile, the Alternative Media Group faces problems because of director Moussa Tchangari's membership in a coalition protesting a new tax on foodstuffs, water and electricity. Tchangari was arrested, along with other members, and media have been warned not to cover the coalition's protests.

IPI says the Niger government has misunderstood the role played by independent media in a crisis. "The independent media can act as an early warning system, alerting the government to potential disaster and allowing it to act accordingly. Moreover, the media can also examine the government's work at the local, regional and national levels to ensure it responds appropriately and that aid reaches those most in need."

Visit:
- MFWA Capsule Report: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/68598/
- MFWA: http://www.mfwaonline.org/en/updates/index.php
- IPI Letter to President Mamadou Tandja: http://www.freemedia.at/Protests2005/Niger16.09.05.htm
- IPI Report on Niger: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Africa/niger.htm
- Is it a Famine or a Food Crisis? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4139174.stm
- Alertnet: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/emergency/NE_FOO.htm

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El periodista disidente saudí @AliAlAhmed_en ha sido bombardeado a correos electrónicos que le incitaban a pinchar… https://t.co/psMmKVkXn3

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