Madagascar: municipal authorities short-circuit overly critical radio station
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that the municipal authorities in Ilakaka, a mining town 700 km south of the capital, Antananarivo, have allowed a local privately-owned power company to censor an independent radio station by turning off its electricity supply.
RSF calls on the Madagascan government to bring this illegal state of affairs to an end and to ensure that the local authorities behave in a legal manner.
In response to the incomprehension of the station’s management, who knew they were up to date with the electricity bills, Maherlla’s employees produced a letter justifying the action on the grounds of “defamation of the electricity supply company, meaning its services are not needed” and “disrespect and contempt towards the authorities.”
“We condemn this blatant act of censorship of a radio station regarded as overly independent of the local economic and political centres of power,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber of RSF’s Africa desk. “We call on the municipal authorities and the power company Maherlla to respect the law and to restore the radio station’s electricity supply at once.”
Radio Jupiter is the only outlet in Ilakaka offering an alternative to the official media mouthpieces, which is perhaps why the town’s mayor, Ratsimanoitry “Zidane” Razafiarison, chose to have a debate about the municipality’s management on Radio Jupiter on 28 July. He was accompanied by his chief of staff, Benjamin Ravelonirina, who happens to be Maherlla’s owner.
However, they were quickly disconcerted by the questions posed by listeners and other guests, especially questions about mismanagement of refuse removal. The mayor finally stormed out in mid-broadcast when the journalist Fernand Cello asked about a 3% municipal tax that Maherlla has added to consumer electricity bills although no trace of this tax can be found in the municipal accounts.
Cello regards the disconnection of Radio Jupiter’s power supply as a “political decision and abuse of power.” The radio station has decided to file a formal complaint.
Cello is known for his coverage of corruption and environmental destruction caused by Ilakaka’s sapphire mines. After revealing the existence of a clandestine mine, he had to flee to Antananarivo in late to 2014 because of threats from local officials. In January 2016, he was physically attacked and had to be hospitalized after a report about organ trafficking.
Local residents who appreciate Radio Jupiter’s independence staged a demonstration in Ilakaka on 6 August in protest against the censorship of the station.
Madagascan journalists are meanwhile combatting the adoption of a draconian new communication law, which they say would make it easier for the authorities to control media outlets.
Madagascar is ranked 56th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.