Madagascar is mired in an ongoing political power struggle--often waged through partisan media outlets--between current President Andry Rajoelina, once a disc jockey and the former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, and his rival, former President Marc Ravalomanana.
While covering Madagascar for Global Voices,
I have seen an information malaise split the Malagasy media along the same
bitter, partisan political allegiances tearing our
This month, I had the opportunity to talk to several
reporters and bloggers while in
I met, for instance, with veteran journalist Evariste
Ramanatsoavina, who worked with Radio Mada, a station owned by
ousted president Ravalomanana. His station was banned by the new administration
on the same vague accusations used by the previous government to shut down
Viva. Ramanatsoavina was imprisoned for two weeks before a judge found
that there was insufficient evidence to the charges of "broadcasting false
news" against him.
Another reporter working with MaTV, a private broadcaster, recounted to me the day soldiers invaded their newsroom without a warrant looking for footage of army excesses. An army commander threatened to shut down the station if MaTV did not stop reporting on the military, he said. Since then, journalists at the station's sister print publication, Ma Laza, have stopped signing articles with their real names, he added.
Until recently, online information was ignored by the
administration; repression focused on traditional media. In fact, only less
than 1 percent of the Malagasy population has access to the Internet, according
The fact that print media is often under pressure in
One veteran journalist, who has been in print journalism for decades and is respected among his peers as an independent thinker, was not surprised: "When one paper says one thing and the other one states the complete opposite, it is very difficult to sort out facts from rumors. One can tell easily that newspapers have grown more polarized during the crisis. It's as if some of them followed a logic of partisanship instead of a logic of reporting."
Censorship takes multiple forms in the current information
On the other hand, Malagasy news Web sites, such as Sobika, Topmada, Madatsara, and many bloggers were able to document in detail the violence and street protests by posting unedited photos and firsthand testimonies. The use of SMS-to-computer and microblogging platforms (twitter.com/malagasytwit) also permitted rapid collection of information that was just not possible through traditional media. This new form of digital media filled a void in the need for real time information by Malagasy citizens but also provided an alternative point of view that political leaders may not have foreseen until late in the crisis. On June 26, Topmada announced it was indefinitely suspending its coverage. We later found out it was due to threats to the editor's relatives.
Judging from the current tensions in Madagascar, which have reportedly led to the deaths of at least 130 people, including journalist Ando Ratovonirina of Radio Télévision Analamanga, reconciliation between Malagasies will have to start with regaining trust toward the agents of information. Elections are planned for the end of 2009, and we all hope that transparency will be fostered and encouraged before and during the electoral process. Otherwise, the malaise may still linger long after what would otherwise be welcome closure.