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Government closes TV station owned by political rival

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's closure of Viva TV on the night of 13 to 14 December 2008, after the station broadcast a message by former president Didier Ratsiraka. The authorities accused the station, owned by the mayor of Antananarivo, of broadcasting statements liable to "disturb public order and security." Ratsiraka has lived in exile in Paris since 2002.

"Viva's closure signals a hardening in President Marc Ravalomanana's policy towards news media regarded as sympathetic towards the opposition," Reporters Without Borders said. "Diversity of views must be tolerated in Madagascar and we call on the authorities to reverse this decision and allow the station to resume operating."

Located in the district of Ambodivona, Viva TV was closed by police officers who arrived in two trucks at about 11:30 p.m. (local time) on 13 December with a document signed by the minister of telecommunications, post and communication, Bruno Andriantavision, ordering its immediate closure. The police also confiscated the DVD containing the former president's message. There was no mention of how long the ban would last.

Ratsiraka's message, recorded in Paris on 2 December and dealing with the political, social and economic situation in Madagascar, had been broadcast by Viva TV just a few hours before the raid.

Extracts from the message had already been widely broadcast by other stations and printed by the privately-owned daily "Midi Madagasikara" on its front page on 11 December without any of these media outlets being bothered by the police.

Viva TV owner and director Andry Rajoelina described the closure as a "purely political decision" claiming that "the government had been intending to close Viva TV for a long time." He also accused the head of the media regulatory body of harassing the station for the previous two weeks, looking for any pretext to close it.

Rajoelina's relations with the government have been tense ever since he was elected mayor of Antananarivo in December 2007, defeating the ruling party candidate.

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