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)
The media environment remained restricted as the government continues to force journalists to choose between self-censorship and risking a ban in reprisal for being critical of government policies. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but authorities used legal harassment, threats, and financial pressure to curb critical reporting. While the imprisonment of journalists by the state is relatively rare, local media professionals face repressive press laws that allow for prison penalties for defamation—including a minimum sentence of three months for a repeat offense—particularly with regard to the president, his relatives, or members of his cabinet. In May, the independent website Gabonews commented that many journalists resort to self-censorship, as coverage of corruption or mismanagement within the government is seen as incitement to political upheaval.
A 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 three years. At least three news outlets remain banned since 2003 for allegedly defaming the president and “attacking the dignity of the institutions of the Republic,” among other charges. In June, the CNC lifted a ban imposed in December 2003 on the private bimonthly L’Autre Journal, though no reason was given publicly for the decision. However, in September the CNC banned the private weekly Les Echos du Nord for three months over an article criticizing the pro-government press for reports that several government officials had tried to sell a disputed offshore island to neighboring Equatorial Guinea. In October, the government arrested Norbert Mezui, director of the independent weekly Nku’u Le Messager, and held him for 21 days on the pretext of a three-year-old defamation verdict that was pending appeal. The arrest, which appeared to violate Gabonese procedural law, occurred after Mezui’s newspaper ran a similar article criticizing the pro-government press over the scandal.
Gabon has over a dozen private radio stations and 4 private television stations, while as many as 20 private weeklies and monthlies circulate in the capital, Libreville. However, the state-affiliated L’Union is the country’s only daily newspaper, and local journalists complain that many nominally private publications are controlled by political factions. 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 and two television stations that are able to broadcast nationwide. Private broadcasting tends to be nonpolitical. The government does not restrict access to, or use of, the internet for the 4.6 percent of the population wealthy enough to have access, and foreign publications and broadcasts are widely available.