The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists group, today expressed its mounting concern over the current state of emergency in Madagascar and its effect on the country's media. The government-declared a state of emergency on February 22nd, after opposition figure Marc Ravalomanana declared himself president. This has left media outlets and broadcasters in a state of unrest and fear. The measure gives the President, Didier Ratsiraka, total control over news broadcasts.
On the night of February 23rd, about ten masked men attacked the offices of Madagascar Broadcasting Service's (MBS) radio station in Fianarantsoa (300 km south of the capital, Antananarivo). The offices were set on fire and three night watchmen were seriously injured in the attack. In the past few days, unidentified individuals have reportedly also attempted to enter by force the MBS station in Antsirabe (150 km south of the capital).
Press freedom violations also occurred before the state of emergency declaration. On February 20th, striking secondary school students ransacked and threw stones at the offices of the Amoroni Mania Radio-Television station in Ambositra les Roses (south of Antsirabe). The students were protesting the station's coverage of events, which they considered to be biased.
Three days earlier, supporters of the President attacked a MBS crew in Brickaville (east of the capital). On 2 February, Lieutenant-Colonel Coutiti, the information minister's technical adviser, confiscated the private FM 91 radio station's equipment in Nosy Be (an island in the country's northern region) and closed the station. A provincial councillor who supports Ravalomanana owns FM 91.
The IFJ has called on the Madagascar authorities to ensure that media professionals are spared from the violence and harassment they currently face in their jobs. This period of unrest and crisis can only be resolved if the media are free to continue their roles as transmitters of free expression.