Niger broadcaster suspended; violations unspecified

New York, August 20, 2008—Authorities in Niger summarily suspended a private broadcaster for a month citing unspecified regulatory violations, according to local journalists and news reports. The station has provided sympathetic coverage of the country’s former prime minister, now jailed on corruption charges, according to several sources.

In a ruling obtained by CPJ, the state-run High Council on Communications found Dounia Television and Radio in “noncompliance with regulatory terms and conditions,” but provided no further explanation. Dounia Deputy Director-General Ali Idrissa disputed the vague allegation, saying the station did not receive notice about any such issue prior to the ruling. Today, Council President Daouda Diallo declined to comment to CPJ, saying he was in a meeting. “The suspension of Dounia Television and Radio on unsubstantiated grounds is part of a pattern of a government censorhip of media outlets, whether local or foreign, for critical coverage,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We call on the government to lift this suspension immediately and allow the station to broadcast freely.”

The station, which came on the air in early 2007, had been giving considerable airtime to supporters of former prime minister Hama Amadou, according to local journalists. The government has jailed Amadou since June on charges of embezzling funds equivalent to US$230,000 during his term, according to international news reports. Earlier this year, editor Aboubacar Gourouza was jailed in connection with a story in relation to Amadou.

The ruling came the same day Niger’s Court of Appeals denied bail to veteran journalist Moussa Kaka despite a judge’s dismissal in June of antistate charges against him. CPJ and Kaka’s employer, French international broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI), have been calling for Kaka’s release on bail pending the outcome of the trial. The council handed a three-month suspension to RFI over its coverage of the Kaka case.

Earlier, in June, authorities summarily closed the independent press center Maison de la Presse after accusing the center of “increasingly becoming hostage to certain interest groups with hidden agendas,” according to local journalists. The same month, authorities threatened to shut down independent publications whose editors did not have a press card, according to the association of independent press editors.