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Communications Ministry targets foreign media in new decree

(MFWA/IFEX) - The transitional government of Niger on June 3, 2010 issued a new media decree that the country's media and civil society groups say will restrict the flow of information and undermine the work of foreign media outlets and their journalists.

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)'s correspondent reported that the decree - signed by the country's Minister of Communications, New Technologies and Culture, Madam Tacoubakoye Aminata - requires foreign journalists and media outlets to seek clearance from her ministry and pay a huge, non-refundable fee before visiting the country to undertake films and documentaries.

Additionally, the decree orders foreign media outlets to deposit original copies of their final works with the Communication Directorate of the Ministry.

Article 6 of the Decree reads: "(. . .) anyone applying for authorization to film documentaries and reports must, before entering Niger, be in possession of a copy of the authorization signed by the Minister of Communication". The article also stipulates that any foreign media outlet, production company, association or NGO that intends to produce documentaries or reports must "pay for them".

According to MFWA's correspondent, television stations or production agencies and radio stations would pay two million FCFA (approx. US$3,700) and one million FCFA (approx. US$1,850) respectively, while newspapers would pay 500,000 FCFA (approx. US$925) each. These fees do not exempt them from existing taxes, duties and levies.

"These new measures are a true obstruction of access to the right of public information in Niger. It is a setback for democracy (. . .)" said Boubacar Diallo, President of the Nigerien Association of Private Newspaper Publishers.

In another development, the National Communications Observatory (ONC), the organ responsible for media regulation in Niger, on June 14 authorized the reopening of privately-owned Sahara FM. The station, which is based in the town of Agadez, north of Niamey, the capital, was closed down on April 21, 2008 by the regime of President Mamadou Tandja. The closure followed an accusation of "disseminating information likely to incite hatred". The authorities claimed that Sahara FM was undermining the morale of the country's military during its fight against the Tuareg's Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (MNJ).

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