In Senegal, police hinder station’s coverage of violent protests

New York, March 31, 2008—Police in the Senegalese capital of Dakar assaulted a reporter who was covering a violent anti-government protest on Sunday, according to local journalists and news reports. They later raided the reporter’s station and confiscated footage.

Walf TV reporter Ousmane Mangane told CPJ that riot police used Tasers on him as he was attempting to interview an opposition member of parliament, Mously Diakhaté, on live television. Police spokesman Alioune Ndiaye said 24 arrests were made on Sunday after police dispersed the demonstration, which was led by consumer advocacy groups who were protesting against price hikes in food, fuel, and other basic staples.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. local time, two plainclothes agents from the police’s Criminal Investigation Division arrived at Walf’s studios and ordered the station to hand over copies of the footage, according to Walf TV Programs Director Aïssatou Diop Fall. Officers did not provide a reason, but said the order came from the government, Fall said.

The station’s exclusive live coverage of clashes between police and demonstrators protesting rises in consumer prices was unprecedented in Senegal, according to local journalists.

“It is not the role of security forces to police the airwaves,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It is unacceptable to storm stations and demand footage with no legal order to back the action. We call on the police to return the confiscated footage to Walf.”

In a telephone interview with CPJ today, police spokesman Ndiaye said he did not know which governmental authority had ordered the raid. The police department “is not limited in its actions,” he said.

The president of Senegal’s official broadcast media regulator, the National Council of Broadcasting Regulation (known by its French acronym, CNRA), Nancy Ndiaye Ngom, declined today to comment on the matter via telephone. Ngom, a magistrate by trade, heads a nine-member board of presidential appointees mandated to regulate broadcasting, according to CPJ research.

Walf TV, part of the Walf media group, which publishes leading independent newspaper Wal Fadjri, is one of four private television channels in Senegal. Program Director Fall said the raid would not deter the station from future live coverage.