Freedom of the Press
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)
The constitution allows for freedom of expression, but authorities have routinely used threats and legal provisions criminalizing defamation and vaguely defined “incitement” to imprison journalists and censor critical reporting. In Chad’s conservative, ethnically polarized society, many subjects are considered off-limits to the press, including the armed rebellion on the border with Sudan and recurring tensions among tribal clans. The High Council of Communication (HCC), the official media regulatory body, has the authority to suspend publications and broadcast outlets for defamation or excessive criticism of the government, particularly President Idriss Deby. On November 13, 2006, amid worsening violence in the volatile east, which borders Darfur, the government instituted a state of emergency in six regions of Chad, as well as the capital, N’Djamena. The state of emergency included a ban on newspaper and radio coverage of issues and events “likely to threaten public order, national unity, territorial integrity, and respect for the republican institutions” and required radio stations to submit their recorded material to government censors. To protest the censorship regulations, many newspapers carried out a two-week hiatus on publishing and several radio stations initiated a 72-hour news strike. In late November, the National Assembly announced that they would extend the 10-day-old state of emergency for six months, granting the government the power to maintain prior censorship of the print media and permanent monitoring of radio stations. At the end of the year, the restrictions were still in place, depriving Chadians of vital sources of information at a time when conflict is sweeping the country.
In the lead-up to presidential elections held on May 3, the government arrested Tchanguis Vatankah, president of the Chadian Union of Private Radios and director of an independent radio station in the remote southern town of Moissala, over a radio union press release criticizing HCC restrictions against broadcasting live political debates (Deby was reelected in a poll boycotted by the opposition). Vatankah was held for three weeks and released only after he pledged to stay out of politics and to step down as head of the radio union. An Iranian national who has resided in Chad for decades, Vatankah has been a frequent target of government ire in the past in connection with his work for Radio Brakos in Moissala. Also in April, a journalist working for FM Liberté in central Chad was briefly held by rebels as they advanced toward N’Djamena. In the months that followed, government censorship increased amid heightened civil conflict. Journalists in Chad are restricted from discussing Darfur or Chad’s confrontations with the Sudanese government. In October, a journalist for the private weekly Notre Temps was detained for four days over an editorial critical of the government’s conduct in the war.
Private newspapers, many of which were critical of the government before the state of emergency was imposed, circulate freely in N’Djamena, but they have little impact on the largely rural and illiterate population; radio is the primary means of mass communication. The only television station, Teletchad, is state owned, and its coverage favors the government. Despite high licensing fees for commercial radio stations, there are over a dozen private and community-run stations on the air, some operated by nonprofit groups (including human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church). These broadcasters are subject to close official scrutiny, and those that fail to pay annual fees to the state are threatened with closure. Access to the internet is limited by the high level of poverty in Chad to less than 0.5 percent of the population, but the government refrains from restricting access to those who can afford it. Nonetheless, according to the U.S. State Department, the government does occasionally engage in monitoring e-mail through the main post office server.