Mauritian parliament imposes stricter regulations on broadcast media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Mauritian President not to promulgate the law imposing much stricter regulations on radio stations that the National Assembly passed yesterday despite opposition from the media. This law threatens the independence of journalists, says RSF.

“Wake up for freedom of speech” was on the front page of the Mauritian newspaper The Express yesterday morning, hours before the National Assembly approved the Independent Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, giving authorities sweeping powers to sanction the island nation’s wildly popular private radio stations and putting jeopardize the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

The law would allow the head of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the national broadcast media regulator, to ask a judge to order journalists to reveal their sources or “produce any necessary recordings, documents or articles the AMF’s exercise of its regulatory powers, and it does not establish any legal guarantee for this practice.

It would also increase the penalties that courts can impose on journalists, expand the powers of the IBA and further undermine its already limited independence. Media that violate the rules or journalists who refuse to reveal their sources face up to five years in prison and a fine of 500,000 rupees (10,000 euros), five times the current fine. At the same time, the members of the IBA responsible for resolving disputes in the event of appeals would now be appointed by the government and not by the IBA itself, as was the case until now.

Finally, the media licensing process would become much more onerous. The licenses would cost twice as much and would only be valid for one year instead of three. This means that the director of the IBA, who is appointed by the Prime Minister, would have the possibility of stripping a media outlet of its license every 12 months. In addition, the new law clarifies that “a licensee’s past conduct” must be taken into account in “determining whether or not to renew a license”.

“With the increase in the threat to the confidentiality of sources, the strengthening of sanctions, the difficulty of renewing a license and the attack on the independence of the regulator, this bill contains provisions that are very dangerous for the freedom, the pluralism and independence of journalists in Mauritius,” he added. says Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We’re asking the president not to sign it into law.”

Mauritius is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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