Reporters Without Borders today expressed its renewed concern after five newspapers stopped publishing and several journalists were threatened and physically assaulted during the political upheaval of the past few weeks.
The media has become the prisoner of a hostile climate for press freedom since the start of the power struggle between the president, Marc Ravalomanana, and the ousted mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Independent journalists conscientiously doing their job of informing their fellow citizens on the current political situation are neither demonstrators nor active participants in this crisis. In this very tense political climate, it is essential they are protected,” said Secretary General Jean-François Julliard.
Christian Rivo Rakotonirina, former editor of the daily Tribune de Madagascar and now editor of an online newspaper, was beaten up and left in a coma at a meeting in Mahamasina d'Antananarivo stadium held by the president's supporters. They had accused him of phoning Andry Rajoelina and seized his Blackberry mobile phone before attacking him.
He was taken to the Joseph Ravoahangy Andrianavalona university hospital. “My husband is in the neurology department. He is conscious and out of danger but still poorly”, his wife told Reporters Without Borders. “The latest scan showed he has frontal bruising”.
On the same day, Tiaray Rakoto, journalist on Inona Ny Vaovao? (What news?), a daily owned by the President, was chased, searched and robbed of his money by pro-Andry Rajoelina militants. The journalist managed to hide his equipment before his assailants got to him. Since these two incidents, Tribune de Madagascar and Inona Ny Vaovao? have decided to cease publishing “until further notice".
Elsewhere, the dailies Midi Madagascar et Gazetiko and the weekly Midi Flash also stopped appearing after arson threats were made against the Midi Madagascar press group, which is owned by a deputy in the ruling party Mamy Rakotoarivelo, whose house was ransacked on 11 March.
Also in the capital on 7 March, Sitraka Rafanomezantsoa, journalist on the daily Malaza, was assaulted by the “casseurs de manif” (demo busters) a term used locally to describe the president's supporters. The journalist told Reporters Without Borders on the phone that “heavies” had beaten him with clubs and iron bars leaving him with bruising to the head and a badly cut eyelid.
Similar incidents have happened outside the capital too. At an opposition demonstration held in Tamatave, on the east coast on 19 February, security forces tried to snatch a camera from a journalist with the first name Harilala, working for TV Plus. Police briefly arrested and then released him. A few days earlier in Fianarantsoa in southeastern Madagascar, police threatened Nicolas Rabemananjara, director of TV Plus, ordering him to stop filming an opposition demonstration.
Reporters Without Borders Secretary General also appealed to journalists and media who support the president or his chief opponent not to get involved in partisan propaganda or defamation but to demonstrate the greatest professionalism in providing fully checked and objective news”.