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)
After a period of heightened aggression toward journalists during the 2005 coup and an election intended to ensure Faure Gnassingbe’s continuation as president, the media environment stabilized in 2006; nonetheless, the lack of any investigation into 2005’s attacks on the press has led to widespread impunity. Freedom of speech and of the press are legally guaranteed in Togo, but these rights are not always respected in practice. In 2004, in a deal to end trade sanctions from the European Union, President Gnassingbe Eyadema initiated legal improvements to the status of press freedom, including abolishing prison sentences for libel and prohibiting the government from seizing and closing media outlets without judicial approval. However, following Eyadema’s death in 2005, these legal improvements were disregarded as his son Faure Gnassingbe took over the presidency and began targeting and harassing independent media outlets in the wave of violence intended to secure his hold on power. In 2006, nominal respect for the 2004 press laws have returned, but very few, if any, prosecutions have taken place against those responsible for the 2005 crackdown and intimidation of the media.
The 1992 constitution established the High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAAC) as an independent body intended to protect freedom of the press and ensure ethical standards in media operations. Despite its nominal independence, the HAAC has traditionally resided in the breast pocket of Eyadema’s regime and has served predominantly as a tool for government repression of opposition or dissenting media outlets. This is no less true today, even with last year’s appointment of Philippe Evegno, a prominent opposition journalist, as chairman of the HAAC. In May 2006, the HAAC suspended for a month a daily political program on Radio Nostalgie, an independent station, charging that the program “attacked and systematically threatened national and international personalities” after a guest on the show criticized the support showed to the current regime by the Economic Community of West African States. The HAAC has also announced that community and faith-based radio stations will be heavily penalized for broadcasting political commentary.
In 2006, the political environment for the press appears to have returned to what it was under Eyadema, with journalists wary of criticizing the government but infrequently facing direct physical harassment. The most prominent threat to media freedom was the culture of impunity that pervaded the country. Although the number of attacks, harassments, and closures of media outlets has decreased dramatically since 2005, the memory of last year’s campaign of intimidation has led to self-censorship among much of the press. A number of instances of physical attacks and intimidations did occur in 2006, originating primarily from the family of the current and former president. In September, a brother of the president—also the head of the football federation—threatened the host of a show on Radio Sport FM for criticizing a decision the football federation had made. A more direct assault occurred in November when two of Gnassingbe’s brothers physically attacked a journalist with the private radio station Nana FM for having criticized their late father.
Despite government intimidation efforts that frequently result in self-censorship, Togo does house a lively and diverse independent media, even though many private print and broadcast outlets are heavily politicized. The government made consistent efforts to paint all independent media as puppets of the opposition and frequently denied press accreditation to local private media outlets for political events. Over 310 newspapers are registered in Togo, many of them able to publish only sporadically or having to close soon after they open. There are 15 regularly publishing private newspapers, though even these are habitually plagued by inconsistent readerships, as well as a number of private radio stations. The government owns and operates the only uninterrupted daily newspaper, Togo Presse, and the only national television station, and all government outlets maintain a heavy pro-government bias. Improving on 2005, access to the internet in 2006 was generally unrestricted with 5.4 percent of the population accessing the internet during the year, although proprietors of internet cafés were often required to provide records of clientele activity if asked to do so by a state official.