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)
Status change explanation: Benin’s status declined from Free to Partly Free owing to the continuation of criminal libel cases and increased polarization due to the growing number of politically funded media outlets.
Benin has traditionally ranked among the best-performing African countries for press freedom, with freedom of speech protected by the constitution and normally respected by the government. However, a number of worrying trends that began in the 2006 election year continued to plague the press in 2007. Although the country’s 1997 Press Law criminalizing libel has generally been used more as a warning than as actual punishment, it was invoked in December 2006 against the editor and a journalist of the private L’Informateur newspaper for their refusal to retract a story accusing a court bailiff of rape; both served two months in prison out of a six-month sentence. In February 2007, the trend continued when a court sentenced four top officers of the prominent Golfe Media Group to six months in prison and an exorbitant US$10,000 fine each on charges of criminal defamation. Golfe Media appealed, but the case had not been heard in court by year’s end.
Unlike during 2006, when outgoing president Mathieu Kerekou’s regime made several direct attempts to limit critical media content ahead of the presidential election held that year, there were fewer instances of overt harassment by authorities in 2007. However, in December, police arrested and assaulted a cameraman with Golfe Media while confiscating his camera.
Benin’s numerous established media outlets have a history of providing aggressive reporting and robust scrutiny of both government and opposition leaders. However, the media market has recently become saturated by a large number of publications that emerged in the month preceding the 2006 election, a majority of which received direct political funding and had an overtly partisan slant. Many of these news outlets were still operating in 2007, leading to the polarization of media content and, to a certain extent, the corrosion of impartial reporting. Although the proliferation of news outlets has contributed to a greater diversity of content, the inability of most of Benin’s media operators to garner a consistent profit also limits accuracy and fairness in reporting by making poorly paid reporters susceptible to bribery. The High Authority for Audio-Visual Media and Communications requires media outlets to provide a list of planned programs and publications, claiming that the material is used primarily for administrative purposes. Nonetheless, most media practitioners consider this to be an attempt at censorship and refuse to comply, generally without penalty. While internet access is still available primarily through slow dial-up internet cafés, it remains unhindered by government censorship. At 700,000 users, or nearly 9 percent of the population (almost double that of the previous year), Benin had one of West Africa’s highest rates of internet penetration in 2007.