Madagascar media outlets raided during political crisis

New York, March 10, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Saturday’s ransacking of a TV and radio broadcaster by security forces in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. The raid was part of ongoing government efforts to censor independent media coverage of political unrest, stemming from a bitter power struggle between opposition leader Andry Rajoelina and President Marc Ravalomanana. 

On Saturday, more than 50 armed soldiers and police surrounded the studios of Viva, a broadcaster owned by Rajoelina, in the capital, Antanarivo, according to local journalists. Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy, a political commentator with Viva Radio told CPJ she had just completed a live telephone interview with Rajoelina minutes before fleeing the attack. Rajoelina announced he had gone into hiding due to safety concerns, according to local journalists and media reports.

Security forces seized the station’s transmitter, computers, and destroyed equipment including mixing consoles, microphones, and journalists’ files. Soldiers also raided the adjoining offices of Injet, a communications firm owned by Rajoelina, she said. Sobika, a France-based Malagasy diaspora news Web site, published photos of the unfolding attack, snapped on a mobile phone in real-time on Saturday.

Tensions between Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital, and Ravalomanana surged in December after the government summarily closed down Viva Radio in December. In retaliation, opposition protesters burned down the facilities of two pro-government broadcast companies in January.

Another broadcaster, TV Plus, which has broadcast live images of opposition demonstrations, was nearly stormed by armed supporters of the president on Monday afternoon, according to local journalists. Onitiana Realy, the station’s editor-in­-chief, told CPJ the station was surrounded while staffers were preparing the evening news bulletin. Police arrived in time to stop the raid, she said.

Radio Antsiva has been operating from an undisclosed location since Monday afternoon, according to Program Director Valerie Ranaiveson. The station received a formal warning on March 3 issued by Communications Minister Bruno Andriantavison over programs that the minister said “tended to incite to civil disobedience and undermine the public’s confidence in national institutions.”

“Viva, TV Plus, and Radio Antsiva must be allowed to carry out their work without hindrance by the government at this crucial political moment,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes.

The incidents prompted TV Plus and Radio Antsiva, which has aired round-the-clock live coverage of deadly demonstrations, to move their equipment and operations to safer locations, according to local journalists. 

Radio Antsiva reported the next day that it was receiving complaints from listeners unable to hear the station, according to local news reports. The station has been experiencing difficulties broadcasting programs on its frequency because of ongoing scrambling, according to Ranaiveson. Antsiva filed a complaint with the Ministry of Communications on Monday, she said.

“We call on authorities to cease all jamming of radio signals and ensure the immediate return of equipment confiscated from Viva Radio,” Rhodes said.

Journalists from Viva Radio, which briefly returned to the air on Sunday by using a makeshift transmitter and a different frequency, and TV Plus also told CPJ they were also experiencing ongoing scrambling of broadcasts.