The main privately-owned radio station in the central city of Agadez, Sahara FM, was back on the air yesterday for the first time since it was shut down two years ago. It was able to resume broadcasting after obtaining a permit from the National Institute for Communication (ONC), the media’s new regulatory authority.
The station was closed “for an indefinite period” on 22 April 2008 by the Higher Council for Communication (CSC), the previous regulatory authority, after being accused by then President Mamadou Tandja’s government of being “a dangerous radio station broadcasting calls for ethnic hatred.”
“We welcome this development, which allows Niger to recover a truly independent news outlet,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The reopening of this radio station has come at a time when the country’s media are enjoying more and more freedom. The climate for the press has improved significantly since President Tandja’s removal last February.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The national media conference held at the end of March led to the adoption of a law decriminalising press offences at the start of June.”
04.22.2010 - Agadez-based radio station closed for reporting abuses by soldiers in north
Today's decision by the Higher Council for Communication (CSC) to close privately-owned radio Sahara FM, the main radio station in the northern city of Agadez, is an authoritarian blunder that will just aggravate the situation in Niger's strife-ridden northern region, Reporters Without Borders said.
“A jittery government is adopting increasingly repressive measures that are counter-productive,” the press freedom organisation said. “This decision is dangerous as it deprives the public of an independent news source in the country's most troubled region. Without it, rumour and confusion will hold sway. We respect the people of Niger and we therefore think that in a time of crisis they have right to complete and diversified news coverage.”
The CSC, which is in charge of regulating Niger's media, announced Sahara FM's closure today after the station broadcast interviews with people who had been the victims of abuses by government soldiers. The CSC said it was closing it down for an “indefinite” period and “without prejudice to the possibility of criminal prosecutions.”
Sahara FM director Raliou Hamed-Assaleh was summoned to the capital Niamey on 18 April after the governor and police chief of Agadez accused the station of broadcasting “dangerous” statements by local inhabitants that “appeal to ethnic hate and undermine army morale.”
“All we did was broadcast an account of something that happened,” Hamed-Assaleh told Reporters Without Borders.
A report issued by Amnesty International on 3 April described a “new wave of extrajudicial executions” and “forced disappearances” by the army in the Agadez region.
Moussa Kaka, the director of Niamey-based Radio Saraounia and the Niger correspondent of both Radio France Internationale and Reporters Without Borders, has been held since 20 September for being in phone contact with Tuareg rebels operating in the north. He has been charged with “complicity in an attack on state authority.”
Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, the editor of the Agadez-based fortnightly Aïr Info, was arrested for similar reasons on 20 October. He was released on 6 February.