Associated Press
Madagascar's state TV station burns in the capital Antananarivo.

Broadcast Silence Follows Violent Protests in Madagascar

January 28, 2009 07:29 AM
by Rachel Balik
TV and radio stations ceased broadcasting on Monday after protestors razed, looted and burned state buildings.

Madagascar Opposition Protests for Freedom of Expression

All broadcasting in Madagascar stopped Monday night, following a day of protests during which the political opposition set fire to the country’s official broadcasting complex. Andry Rajoelina, mayor of the country’s capital, Antananarivo, led the protests against the government, which he has stated is a threat to democracy. He himself wants to take over as leader of the country and may have substantial support. The Associated Press reports speculations that the absence of police and firefighters at the protests could indicate that they were in favor of the demonstration. Protestors also burned an oil station and a private TV station connected with President Marc Ravalomanana. Additionally, they looted and destroyed buildings on the broadcast complex. Despite the mayhem, President Ravalomanana has insisted that order will be restored.

Rajoelina decided to halt the protests after what the Mail and Guardian called the worst instance of street violence the country had seen in years. He and Ravalomanana were scheduled to meet and discuss the current crisis, but Rajoelina backed out after a member of the opposition was killed by a member of the military.

Background: Political climate in Madagascar

Rajoelina ran as an independent against the current president’s party during the 2007 race for mayor. Since taking office in Antananarivo, he has become an outspoken opponent of the regime. He has called the current government a “dictatorship,” the AFP reports, and has led a number of protests against the government. During a rally on Saturday, Rajoelina urged people to persevere over military forces and to mount a general strike. The most recent round of protests is part of an ongoing response to Ravalomanana’s decision to shut down Rajoelina’s TV station, Viva, after Rajoelina broadcast an interview with an old political rival of the President’s, Didier Ratsiraka.

In 2002, Ravalomanana declared himself the country’s leader after what he claimed was a corrupt election denied him victory. The then-incumbent president, Didier Ratsiraka, had agreed to a second round of voting, reported. The government refused to validate the declaration, and Ravalomanana faced the threat of becoming an international criminal.

However, after months of violence and economic instability, Ratsiraka fled to France. According to the U.S. Department of State, Ravalomanana began an era of reform and has consistently attempted to decentralize government and empower leaders in smaller provinces. But considerable political unrest continues in the region.

Further information about the country’s political structure and electoral history is available in detail from the U.S. State Department.

Related Topic: Freedom of Press Compromised Throughout Asia

Meanwhile, in the neighboring continent of Asia, threats to press freedom are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Leaders throughout the region are limiting private broadcasting and journalism. Earlier in January, Thailand blocked 2,300 Web sites that were allegedly insulting to the king. The week before, two newspaper editors were fired in Vietnam for covering a case of government corruption. 

On Monday, for the third time in the last 12 months, a newspaper publisher was expelled from Fiji for publishing a letter to the editor that allegedly was offensive to the government.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines