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Madagascar: Controversial Mass Media Code Approved

(Sept. 9, 2016) A draft law on a Code of Media Communication was adopted by Madagascar’s Senate and National Assembly on July 13, 2016, and July 14, 2016, respectively. (Loi no 2016-029 portant Code de la Communication Médiatisée [Law 2016-029 Establishing the Code of Media Communication] (Code de la Communication Médiatisée), National Assembly website (July 14, 2016).) The Code comprises 209 articles divided into ten titles.

After being passed by the two chambers of the Madagascar Parliament, the legislation was approved by the High Constitutional Court (Haute Cour Constitutionnelle) on August 12, 2016. The Court has the authority to decide on the compliance of laws with the Constitution. (Décision no 30-HCC/D3 du 12 août 2016 relative à la loi no 2016-029 portant Code de la communication médiatisée [Decision No. 30-HCC/D3 of August 12, 2016 Concerning Law No. 2016-029 on the Code of Media Communication], High Constitutional Court website.) The Court decided that, with the exception of article 6, which concerns the right to freedom of information, the legislation is consistent with the Constitution and can be enacted. (Madagascar: le nouveau Code de la communication jugé conforme à la Constitution [Madagascar: the New Communication Code Judged Consistent with the Constitution], RFI (Aug. 12, 2016).)

The key purposes of the legislation are the provision of security measures for media professionals; protection of journalists’ equipment and sources of information; and creation of the National Regulatory Authority of Media Communication (l’Autorité Nationale de Régulation de la Communication Médiatisée), an institution with the mission of regulating activities in the media communication sector. The Code punishes with fines traditional offenses such as contempt, defamation, or insult carried out through the media. Other offenses, such as those classified as crimes or common crimes, remain governed by Madagascar’s Penal Code or other specific legal provisions. (Code de la Communication Médiatisée, Exposé des motifs [Explanatory Statement], supra.)

The previously existing legislation, which was enacted in 1990 and amended in 1991, was deemed outdated and in need of modernization. (Loi no 90-031 du 21 décembre 1990 sur la Communication [Law No. 90-031 of December 21, 1990, on Communication], JOURNAL OFFICIEL DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE DÉMOCRATIQUE DE MADAGASCAR [OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF MADAGASCAR], Dec. 31, 1990, p. 2673; Les journalistes malgaches inquiets pour leur liberté d’expression [Malagasy Journalists Worried About Their Freedom of Expression], RFI (June 18, 2016); Code de la Communication – Remis au goût du jour après des décennies de tergiversations [Code of Communication – Updated After Decades of Procrastination], MADAGASCAR MATIN (May 11, 2016).)

Reactions to the Law

The legislation has been strongly criticized by journalists and international media organizations. Before the draft was voted on at the National Assembly, 45 media outlets in Madagascar aired special information programs in a continuous loop to raise awareness of the potentially harmful effects of the new Code, and journalists appealed to the representative of the United Nations in Madagascar. (Jour J à Madagascar, pour l’adoption du controversé Code de la communication [D-Day in Madagascar, for the Adoption of the Controversial Communication Code], RFI (July 7, 2016).)

The International Union of Francophone Press and Reporters Without Borders also protested against the adoption of the law, which they claim “marks a setback for democracy and freedom of expression.” The organizations criticized some provisions of the Code for employing terms that are too vague and imposing excessive fines for certain offenses committed by the press, such as defamation. These provisions were found objectionable because they may encourage journalists’ self-censorship. (RSF et l’UPF dénoncent l’adoption du Code de la communication par le Parlement malgache [RSF and the UPF Denounce the Adoption of the Communication Code by the Malagasy Parliament], Reporters Sans Frontiers website (July 8, 2016).)

Journalists also criticized certain provisions of the Code for punishing any interference in the celebration of national holidays or incitement to refrain from participating in them and imposing fines of up to €3,000 (about US$3,379) for slander and authorizing the closing of the newspaper company in some cases. The Code also targets media managers and owners, because editors-in-chief and directors, in addition to authors, will be considered responsible in cases of the commission of press offenses. (Madagascar: le nouveau Code de la communication jugé conforme à la Constitution, supra.)

Prepared by Ricardo Wicker, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.