Togo suspends radio station, bans analyst over soccer coverage

New York, January 12, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a government decision on Tuesday to suspend a private radio station for 15 days and ban a foreign journalist from the domestic airwaves indefinitely in response to critical coverage of the Togolese soccer association (FTF).

Radio Victoire in the capital, Lomé, remained off the air today after the High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAAC) shuttered the station over “professional misconduct,” Editor Etonam Akakpo-Ahianyo told CPJ. Outgoing FTF president, army Col. Rock Gnassimbé, had filed a complaint about the station’s daily soccer talk show, which criticized his leadership during several broadcasts, according to local journalists.

On Monday, Gnassimbé was ousted from office in elections organized by soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, according to news reports. A pay dispute between players and management during last summer’s World Cup and the resignation of four FTF officials had led FIFA to intervene in the management of Togolese soccer, according to international news reports.

French television journalist Jacques Roux, an analyst for the Radio Victoire show, was banned indefinitely from Togolese airwaves for “making statements biased against certain candidates for the FTF presidency and the Togolese authorities,” according to state Radio Togo. Roux, who is also presenter of an African soccer show on private France-based 3A Telesud, alleged in a December 2006 broadcast that Gnassimbé had failed to publicly disclose FTF financial records.

“It’s outrageous that the government is censoring a radio station and a journalist for doing their jobs by asking critical questions about the nation’s soccer program,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the Togolese authorities to immediately lift the ban on Radio Victoire and Jacques Roux.”

One local analyst questioned whether HAAC had the legal authority to take Tuesday’s actions. “This ruling borders on illegality under the laws governing HAAC itself since only the courts are empowered to suspend a radio or journalist,” Francis Pedro Amuzum, president of Observatoire Togolais des Media, a media self-regulatory body, told CPJ. “We have asked HAAC to review this ruling and, should it not be reversed, we will take legal action.”

The government has censored Radio Victoire before. In February 2002, Interior Ministry agents seized its broadcasting equipment, forcing it off the air, according to CPJ research. Officials said the station’s temporary license had expired, but local sources said the closure was due to its critical reporting of the government. The station did not return to the air until March 2005, according to local journalists.