Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression were put to the test in 2004 when four journalists were prosecuted for defamation and two were imprisoned. The jailing was the first since 1996 and marked a sour retreat from tolerance of criticism. All the prosecutions involved the 1997 Law on Criminal Libel, while three of the cases were spurred by two employees of the state media regulatory entity, the High Authority for Audio-Visual Media & Communications (HAAC). In June, one of the persecuted journalists, Patrick Adjumonsi, publications director of the daily L'Aurore, was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison and a symbolic fine of one CFA franc (less than one U.S. cent) for allegedly defaming the two HAAC employees. In August, Adjumonsi was arrested and released six days later, after his original sentence was overturned. By year's end, he faced a new trial and could serve more time in prison. The HAAC employees also pressed charges against two journalists from the private daily La Pyramide, both of whom were sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of one CFA franc. The convictions were overturned temporarily on appeal, assuring for now that Benin remains one of Africa's most open environments for the media. Earlier in the year, Jean-Baptiste Hounkonnou, publication director of the independent daily Le Nouvel Essor, was imprisoned after he received a six-month prison sentence for defamation. After serving six weeks, he was granted a provisional release and faces additional imprisonment if his appeal is rejected.
The independent press remains highly critical of both government and opposition leaders and their policies despite the recent prosecutions. About 20 private newspapers and periodicals appear alongside 3 television channels (2 of them privately owned) and several radio stations. There are not enough readers and advertisers to sustain the large number of media outlets, and the government owns the most influential media. Poor pay for journalists makes them susceptible to bribery, and there are frequent reports of violations of professional ethics.