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Outcry over controversial new law to control free radios

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The political and trade union class is vehemently protesting against the amendments to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act that the government intends to introduce at first reading in the National Assembly on Tuesday, November 23, 2021.

These amendments strengthen the repressive arsenal IBA legal against private radios.

The main proposals are:

  • The duration of the license is reduced from three to one year.
  • A license holder not making a formal request for renewal of license 90 days before the expiration date of this one “shall be deemed to have waived his right to renew his license ”.
  • The IBA have the right to take into consideration any sanction it has imposed on an operator, when deciding whether to renew the license or not. And this even though the license holder has appealed the sanction to court and is awaiting judgment.
  • The authority will also take into account, “the past conduct of a licensee prior to determining whether or not to renew a license”.
  • The IBA may impose administrative penalties on operators who have “refrained from complying or negligently failed to comply, with the Act or Regulations made under the Act, Codes, any direction of the Authority or any conditions of his license ”.
  • Administrative fee to be imposed if the Director of IBA “has reasons to believe” that a license holder has acted against the laws of Mauritius, has committed a financial crime, is not a “fit and proper person” or no longer meets a condition of the IBA Act.
  • All this does not, however, take away the possibility of revoking or suspending an operator’s license. The latter may therefore be subject to an administrative penalty and also a suspension or revocation of his license.
  • Penalties revised upwards: From Rs 100,000, with a prison sentence not exceeding two years. Proposed: Rs 500,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.

“It’s dangerous and criminal,” reacted Xavier-Luc Duval, Leader of the Opposition. “They tried to muzzle Facebook, they came up with the Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Act and now they are attacking private radio stations through the IBA. This is an attempt to muzzle the free press. The goal is to ensure complete control over information. It’s very dangerous!”

Other political parties have also denounced the move. “Instead of trying to stifle criticism, they had better put good people in top positions,” said MMM MP Reza Uteem.

Labour Party’s Shakeel Mohamed described the move as an abuse of power.  “The central subject remains the freedom of the press and the intrinsic intention to dictate what can be said and what must not be said. The goal is to make the private radios work on the fine line drawn by the PM,” he said.

Narendranath Gopee, President of the Federation of Civil Service Unions denounced that the decision to impose a sanction will depend on the “mood” of the IBA.

“I also see that the IBA may impose a penalty on any operator refusing to provide confidential information. So, if a piece of information is not to the taste of the government, the IBA can demand that the radio discloses its sources. Where are we going? “

Nando Bodha, leader of the Mauritian Rally, described the proposed amendments as “dangerous”.

“We are locking the audiovisual space by giving the IBA a legal arsenal to regulate the operation of free radios. These amendments go very far. They can affect the very existence of radios.”

Ashok Subron, from Rezistans ek Alternativ, deplored that “Pravind Jugnauth’s government is giving sanctioning power to an institution whose partisan members are dubiously appointed, instead of going through a court of law. This is an authoritarian reflex which this regime wants to instill. It’s not something isolated.”

Owners of radio stations have announced they will go to Court over what they have described as “totalitarian move to silence the voice of the people. This is pure dictatorship which is being  introduced,” they claimed.

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