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Communication minister suspends privately-owned TV station

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to explain the suspension of Equinoxe TV, a privately-owned station based in the commercial capital of Douala, on 21 February 2008. Communication minister Emmanuel Béyiyi Bi Essam said it was being shut down for failing to pay the required bond of 100 millions CFA francs (approx. 150,000 euros) for an operating licence.

"Since the broadcasting sector was opened up in 2005, no TV or radio station has complied with all the formalities imposed by the government, but the government says nothing if that is in its interest," the press freedom organisation said. "The financial grounds cited for suspending Equinoxe TV seem to be just a pretext for harassing a news media that has criticised the government's decision to amend the constitution. We call on the government to lift this suspension so that a democratic debate can continue."

At 1:00 p.m. (local time) on 21 February, the communication minister issued an order for the suspension of Equinoxe TV on the grounds that its owner, Séverin Tchounkeu, had not paid the required licence bond and was therefore operating illegally. A district police superintendent and a superintendent from the Rapid Intervention Unit personally came and placed seals on the TV station's entrances at 4:15 p.m. (local time).

The suspension comes a few days after Equinoxe TV broadcast a debate about a proposed constitutional amendment that would end the limit on the number of terms a president can serve. The station, which has always opposed the amendment, had already received admonishments and threats from the authorities in Douala and Yaoundé, the capital.

Tchounkeu told Reporters Without Borders he was hoping for a rapid evolution in the government's attitude.

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