Mauritius parliament imposes stricter rules on audiovisual media
“Wake up for freedom of speech” was the headline of the Mauritian newspaper The Express yesterday morning, hours before the National Assembly approved the Independent Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) bill, giving the authorities sweeping powers to sanction the island’s popular private radio stations and putting jeopardize the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The law would allow the director of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the national regulator of broadcast media, to ask a judge to order journalists to reveal their sources or “produce any recording, document or article necessary for the exercise by the Authority of its regulatory powers. And it does not establish any legal warranty for this practice.
It would also increase the penalties courts can impose on journalists, expand the powers of the IBA and further undermine its already limited independence. Media breaking the rules or journalists refusing 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, IBA members responsible for resolving appeals would now be appointed by the government and not by the IBA itself, as has been 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 option to withdraw his license to a media outlet every 12 months. In addition, the new law specifies that “the past behavior of a license holder” must be taken into account in “determining whether or not to renew a license”.
“By increasing the threat to the confidentiality of sources, by strengthening the sanctions, by making it more difficult to renew a license and by undermining the independence of the regulator, this bill contains provisions very dangerous for freedom and pluralism. and the independence of journalists in Mauritius â said Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s Africa office. “We ask the president not to sign it into law.”
Mauritius is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in the RSF 2021 World Press Freedom Index.