Despite a long media tradition going back more than 150 years, Madagascar’s media landscape is highly polarised and politicised, and heavily impacted by corruption.
Due to a high rate of illiteracy, radio is the main source of news. The state controls the public media, and state broadcasters RNM and TVM still tend to follow government communication directives. Privately owned radio stations can only broadcast by satellite. The mostly French-language written press remains confined to urban areas. Privately owned media outlets are politicised and polarised between those who support the government and those who support the opposition. This severely limits the availability of objective and independent reporting.
The state controls the public media and has the power to appoint or dismiss key officials. The stranglehold of politicians on the media undermines pluralism and journalistic freedom. It is common for media outlets to be controlled directly or indirectly by government ministers, parliamentarians and businessmen with close ties to politicians. The polarisation between pro-government and pro-opposition media is all-pervasive. No media outlet is politically independent.
Few journalists have been jailed in connection with their work since the decriminalisation of press offenses in 2016. But, under amendments to the Communication Code in 2020, journalists can be fined for “spreading fake news”, “contempt”, and “defamation”. The Communication Code also allows the authorities to close media or ban programmes deemed likely to disturb public order. A new National Authority for the Regulation of Mediated Communication (ANRCM) should grant media licences, but this provision has not yet taken effect. A proposed law on access to state-held information has been awaiting a vote for 16 years. A law on human rights defenders and whistleblowers that was proposed in 2021 is also still awaiting adoption.
The precariousness of Madagascar’s media has had disastrous consequences on their independence and the quality of their reporting. The level of media concentration creates dominant positions and both the current president and communication minister head a media group. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the scarcity of advertising revenue. Very low salaries leave journalists vulnerable to corruption, including the widespread practice of “felaka” (an envelope with a few banknotes given by the organisers of the event to journalists covering it). It is not uncommon for journalists to take on odd jobs and to find themselves in a conflict of interest as a result of working for politicians. Journalists tend to censor themselves mainly to comply with the editorial line imposed by the politician who owns the media outlet they work for, or to comply with a ban on criticising advertisers.
Covering corruption, particularly in the natural resources and environmental sectors, continues to be very difficult for journalists. Religious communities usually have their own media.
Journalists are sometimes publicly verbally attacked by politicians or are victims of smear campaigns on social media. Physical attacks are very rare. Sometimes it is the journalists who have been won over to the government’s cause who launch verbal attacks on their colleagues who do not share the same political opinion.