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 rights to freedom of speech and of the press are protected by the constitution, but in practice they are often ignored. The life of a journalist is made particularly difficult by a government that frequently implements a law criminalizing defamation and a judiciary ready to enforce it. In 2006, all on charges of libel or defamation, five different journalists spent time in prison. One newspaper, L’Opinion, was banned, and a talk show on the private radio station Tenere FM received a three-month suspension. Journalists who wrote or spoke about problems of corruption within business or government were particularly targeted. The most high-profile case began on August 4, when Mamane Abou and Oumarou Keita, the director and editor, respectively, of the private weekly Le Republicain, were detained and interrogated over an article accusing the prime minister of “courting the Iranians” and thereby risking a rupture with Western donors. A month later, after being held in preventive detention, Abou and Keita were found guilty and each sentenced to 18 months in prison and a US$9,800 fine. However, the appeal of the case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Appeals in the capital, Niamey, where the Court decided the previous sentence had been too harsh and reduced the journalists’ prison time to nine months, six of them suspended. As Abou and Keita had already spent nearly four months in detention awaiting the appeal, they were immediately released. Notably, this ruling came soon after hundreds of people protested in the streets of the central town of Agadez, calling for the release of the journalists.
Although in 2006 there were no direct physical attacks on journalists, the government did continue its efforts to conceal the existence and impact of the famine that hit Niger in 2005. In April, the government withdrew the accreditation of a British Broadcasting Corporation television crew following its investigation into the hunger problem in central Niger. In addition, government officials have been formally prohibited from talking to the media about the hunger crisis.
The state-owned media consistently reflect the government line, while private publications have been very critical of government action. The broadcast media have a greater influence than the newspaper industry owing to the nation’s low literacy level. The state continues to dominate the broadcasting landscape. Nonetheless, at least eight private radio stations broadcast reports critical of the government in French and local languages. Restrictive press licensing legislation and a heavy tax on private media outlets continue to prohibit the growth of a vibrant and dynamic press. Internet access is hard to acquire for most (less than 0.2 percent of the population access it regularly), but this is a result more of the country’s high level of poverty and lack of infrastructure than direct government interference.