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 Ivoirian media environment improved slightly in 2007 owing to the signing of a peace accord between the government and rebels and the dismantling of the confidence zone that separated the country into north and south. Improvements in security have made it easier for journalists to travel around the country, and there were fewer instances of extralegal harassment of journalists in 2007 compared with the previous year. Nonetheless, journalists continue to face the almost constant threat of defamation suits and the possibility of interrogation and imprisonment for criticizing the president.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of the press, since the onset of civil conflict in 2002, the government has restricted media freedom in the name of patriotism and national unity. Despite the parliament’s elimination of criminal libel and other punitive laws for press offenses in December 2004, the government still retains the power to criminalize any libel suit at its discretion. While authorities did not use this power in 2007, a journalist with the private daily Soir Info newspaper was imprisoned for five days in January on contempt of court charges after he published an article accusing the state prosecutor of corruption. While actual imprisonment of journalists was rare in 2007, numerous reporters were charged with defamation in civil courts, often receiving crippling fines. Among other instances, in September, lawyers representing President Laurent Gbagbo demanded financial compensation from five journalists with two pro-opposition newspapers, Le Jour Plus and Le Rebond, for publishing articles accusing the president of corruption. Gbagbo initially demanded compensation of over US$300,000 from each defendant, although lawyers requested US$43,000 from each—a smaller sum, but still one that would ruin both papers. Both defamation cases were undecided at year’s end.
Journalists and media outlets are vulnerable to physical and other abuses by police and extralegal militia, although the situation improved slightly over the previous year. In August, the progoverment student militia, the Student Federation of Cote d’Ivoire (FESCI), attacked the offices of L’Intelligent d’Abidjan, a private daily newspaper, demanding that the paper publish a protest letter clarifying the group’s political affiliation. The letter was in response to an article the paper had published alleging that FESCI had joined the opposition. In July, members of FESCI also attacked a television station in response to a statement made on air regarding the teacher’s union. Similarly, between May and July, four separate media houses—three progovernment and one affiliated with the opposition—were broken into and robbed of documents, equipment, and money. A culture of impunity remains the norm in Cote d’Ivoire owing to a weak rule of law and judiciary; there were no charges or prosecutions for any cases in which journalists were harassed or attacked over the past two years.
The government maintains control over the state media with a heavy hand, running two major radio stations, one of which is the only national station and a key source of news throughout the country, as well as a daily newspaper, Fraternite Matin, which has the highest circulation in the country and regularly toes the government line. State-run outlets have far greater funding than their private counterparts and can much more easily access government information and documents. While no private terrestrial television stations are able to operate in Cote d’Ivoire, there are nearly 100 low-power noncommercial community radio stations that are able to operate freely—including Onuci FM, a station operated by peacekeepers that broadcasts in the north—and 2 commercial private stations. Private newspapers and community radio stations are sometimes able to present diverse views and frequently scrutinize the government, but they are regularly harassed for these reports. Laws also ban the broadcasting of political commentary, according to the U.S. State Department, and many journalists, in both the private and state-funded media, are prone to self-censorship for fear of punishment by their superiors or the government itself. The opening that followed the signing of the peace accord has also enabled the reprinting of articles from foreign papers to resume. The internet is unrestricted by the government, although poverty and infrastructure limitations restricted access to less than 2 percent of the population in 2007.