Gabon | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Gabon

Gabon

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

67

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

23

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but authorities have routinely sought legal redress for alleged press offenses. While the imprisonment of journalists by the state is rare, local media professionals still face repressive press laws that allow for prison penalties for defamation, particularly when filed by the president, his relatives, or members of his cabinet. A dozen lawsuits against journalists and news outlets continued to make their way through the court system at year's end. A national commission on press professionalism has been created that has wide powers to decide who qualifies for accreditation as a professional journalist. A separate government agency charged with upholding journalistic standards, the National Communications Council (CNC), has a history of using intimidation tactics against the independent press and has forcibly shut down more than half a dozen publications in the last two years. In August, the CNC banned the bimonthly newspaper Nku'u Le Messager for three weeks over an editorial it found insulting to its nine appointed members. At least three news outlets remain banned since 2003 for defamation of the president and his family. Much of the staff of these papers has elected to live abroad for fear of imprisonment at home, but this year President Omar Bongo threatened to revoke the passports of citizens who live overseas and engage in criticism of the Gabonese government.

In the months leading to the December reelection of President Bongo, journalists faced more physical attacks and unwarranted detention. In November, Gabonews journalist Achille Ngoma was beaten by police officers in the capital, Libreville, while trying to interview them. In December, two journalists were detained for taking photographs of a riot police unit at an opposition rally. Later that month, two reporters from the private station Tele Africa were beaten by police while covering another opposition demonstration in Libreville.

A government daily and a dozen independent newspapers are available in the capital, but much of the private press appears irregularly because of financial constraints and frequent government censorship. Almost all Gabonese private newspapers are printed in Cameroon because of the high cost at the only local printing company, and publications printed outside the country are subject to review before distribution. The government owns two radio stations that are able to broadcast nationwide. The number of independent broadcasting outlets has increased in recent years, though the future of many of these is uncertain and most of their programming is nonpolitical. The government does not restrict access to, or use of, the internet for the 3 percent of the population wealthy enough to have access, and foreign publications and broadcasts are widely available.