In 1996, President Idriss Deby shed his military dictator’s uniform to become the country’s first democratically elected ruler. However, his government’s treatment of local independent media has remained heavy-handed. This year, Chadian officials were particularly sensitive to press coverage of the ongoing fight between government troops and the armed Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJT) in the mountainous Tibesti region.
On August 26, for example, Minister of Communication Moussa Dago accused the N’Djamena-based independent weekly L’Observateur of violating the constitution and threatened legal action after the paper published an interview with former defense minister Youssouf Togoimi, a leader of the MDJT rebel forces.
Dago has repeatedly warned that the government will not tolerate local journalists reporting on the armed conflict. As a result, independent journalism in Chad was characterized by caution and self-censorship throughout the year.
Meanwhile, prohibitively high government licensing fees have stunted the growth of privately owned radio. In a country where illiteracy is high, this means that few people have access to independent information. In October 1999, state TVnewscaster Zara Yacoub launched the community radio station MDJA FM, which broadcasts only in the capital, N’Djamena.
Moussa Dago, Chad’s minister of communication, threatened to take all legal measures possible to penalize the N’Djamena-based independent weekly L’Observateur for allegedly violating the constitution.
The minister’s decision came in response to the publication of an interview with Youssouf Togoimi, the leader of the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), in the August 25 issue of L’Observateur. MDJT is a rebel organization that has been sporadically opposing government forces in the mountainous, semidesert Tibesti region since October 1998.