After three years, Chad’s bloody civil war ended in January, when the government of President Idriss Déby signed a peace accord with the rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJT). A month later, Parliament adopted a law granting MDJT members amnesty.
Despite the treaty, fighting continued sporadically, and the media remained tightly controlled by the government. Officials, anxious to keep the fragile truce with the MDJT, grew impatient with critical reporting on the situation. In February, the High Council of Communications (HCC), an official media regulatory body, suspended the independent radio station FM Liberté for three weeks for allegedly broadcasting “information likely to disrupt public order.” The station had earlier aired reports on a student demonstration at a university in northern Cameroon during which several Chadians were injured.
Although officials promised “total transparency” during April parliamentary elections, the HCC banned all political programming on radio stations ahead of the poll. The council claimed that since it had been unable to effectively regulate the airtime that political parties receive for advertising, the ban was necessary to prevent unequal media access. But journalists charged that the ban actually favored the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party. According to the private biweekly N’Djamena Hebdo, “Politics is now considered a fools’ game … whose outcome is known in advance.” Few seemed surprised by the MPS’s electoral victory, which gave the party 110 of 115 parliamentary seats.
The bans on political programming and the election results confirmed for many journalists that the HCC–originally intended to be an independent authority promoting free access to the media–has become a government instrument for controlling information. The HCC ordered a similar ban on political programming ahead of the 2001 elections, during which President Déby sailed to victory.
With Chad’s high illiteracy rate, radio is the country’s most important medium. Although the government opened the audiovisual communications sector to private ownership in 1994, private stations have been unable to broadcast because the HCC keeps the licensing fee at US$4,000 per year–an astronomical sum in Chad, where the average annual income is US$200.
FM Liberté, a private radio station in the capital, N’Djamena, was suspended by the High Council on Communications (HCC), the state media supervisory body, for three weeks. HCC officials claimed that the popular station had violated broadcasting regulations by broadcasting “information likely to disrupt public order.”
The previous week, FM Liberté had reported on a student rally at the University of Yaoundé in neighboring Cameroon, during which soldiers arrested and allegedly roughed up Chadian nationals. The news angered students at the Félix Eboué High School in N’Djamena, who took to the streets on February 4 to protest the enrollment of Cameroonian nationals in Chad’s schools, looting and injuring several people. FM Liberté resumed normal programming at the end of the three-week ban, on March 4.
All private radio stations
For the second time in 2002, the High Council on Communications (HCC) banned “all political radio programs” on all of Chad’s private, cooperative, and community radio stations during the run-up to the country’s third round of parliamentary elections, which were held in March.
The HCC also warned that stations airing official campaign materials could be suspended “if the content is insulting or provocative, or contrary to provisions of the law and regulations in force.” HCC officials told reporters that the move was intended to help the Electoral Commission track each political party’s airtime on private radio stations to avoid “imbalances.”
On April 20, the HCC lifted the ban and removed threats to suspend delinquent stations. The HCC had ordered a similar ban during the run-up to the presidential elections, which were held in May 2001.