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GOVERNMENT FORCES THREE BROADCASTERS OFF AIR

A third broadcaster has been forced off the air in Cameroon for covering violent demonstrations against a rise in prices and a government proposal to eliminate term limits for the President, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 28 February, armed soldiers raided Magic FM, a popular radio station in the capital Yaoundé, and confiscated key broadcasting equipment. The officers accused the station of "broadcasting irresponsibly" and inciting tension for its critical coverage of the government during a call-in programme earlier that day. Callers were criticising President Paul Biya's televised address to the nation, where he said he would use "all legal means" to restore order.

"It is not the role of security forces to police radio air waves," says CPJ. "This crude act of intimidation against Magic FM exposes the government's attempt to cow the free press into self-censorship over coverage of a critical national debate. We call on authorities to return Magic FM's equipment immediately and allow the station to broadcast freely."

Magic FM, a partner of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, is known for its pointed political coverage, says CPJ.

On the same day, the Communications Minister summoned the editors of privately-owned newspapers and warned them to moderate the tone of their coverage, say CPJ and RSF.

The unrest started on 23 February, when a man was killed as riot police broke up an opposition rally in the economic capital, Douala. At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters since then, according to news reports. RSF reports that privately-owned newspapers, chiefly printed in Douala, are not being distributed.

Protesters said Biya had failed to address the problems: higher fuel and food prices, and anger over a proposed amendment to the constitution to scrap term limits for President and allow Biya to stand for office again in 2011. He has been president for more than 25 years.

In Burkina Faso, similar demonstrations over the rising prices of basic necessities also led to clashes between police and protesters, say news reports.

The closure of Magic FM followed last week's back-to-back closures of leading broadcasters Equinoxe TV and Radio Equinoxe, based in the economic capital Douala, in connection with their coverage of the ongoing crisis.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2zb9a5
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5876&Language=EN
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25982
(4 March 2008)

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