April 4, 2006

Niger to block foreign press reporting food crisis

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger said on Tuesday it would deny
accreditation to foreign journalists who reported alleged food
shortages in the central African state after criticising three
BBC journalists for their "negative" coverage.

The BBC said on Monday a team of its journalists had their
permission to work withdrawn by the government in Niamey after
finding evidence of food shortages in the Maradi region in
central Niger, hard hit by last year's humanitarian crisis.

But Niger's government denied it had stripped the
journalists of their accreditation, saying it had summoned them
to explain that their coverage was one-sided and did not
present the country's efforts to solve its problems.

"We did not expel the BBC. We summoned the team to say
their report had caused shock and Niger is more than just
recurring food shortages," said Fogue Aboubacar,
secretary-general at the Culture, Arts and Communication

"Niger is also about the authorities attempts to solve
these problems and one must stop focusing on the negative
side," he added. "That is what happened in 2005 and we are not
going to tolerate it, especially as harvests have been good."

"Be it the BBC, CNN or any other media, we will not hand
out more accreditation on the food situation," he said.

During 2005, an estimated 3.6 million people -- over a
third of Niger's population of 12 million -- were left short of
food, including some 800,000 children suffering from

In November, Niger accused aid agencies such as the World
Food Program of exaggerating the threat of severe food
shortages this year to boost their funds.

Rates of malnutrition run at 10.5 percent in the country as
a whole, rising to as high as 21.3 percent in Maradi.