Freedom of the Press
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Central African Republic
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: The Central African Republic’s press freedom rating decreased from Partly Free to Not Free as authorities sought to limit commentary on the worsening armed conflict in the north of the country.
The 2005 constitution provides for freedom of the press, though authorities have continued to use intimidation and legal harassment to limit reporting, particularly on sensitive topics such as official corruption and ongoing instability due to antigovernment insurgencies. An overwhelming majority of voters approved the new constitution in a December 2005 referendum, recognizing the freedom to inform and express opinions as fundamental rights of the country’s citizens. In addition, the new Press Law, which decriminalized many press offenses such as libel and slander, was approved by President Francois Bozize in early 2005; criminal penalties remain for some defamation charges, for incitement to ethnic or religious hatred, and for the publication or broadcast of false information that could “disturb the peace.” Despite the 2005 press reforms and the progress that followed in 2006, authorities disappointed in 2007 by using criminal prosecutions to limit critical reporting, with the jailing of a prominent local editor and the banning of a private publication. At the same time, entry into the journalism profession is relatively open and unrestricted as no license is required, and in the majority of cases, access to government information is free for both public and private media outlets.
During the year, the government attempted to restrict local journalists’ commentary on ongoing insecurity in the north, where anti-Bozize rebels operate along with militias connected to the ongoing conflicts in neighboring Sudan and Chad. The UN Security Council authorized the deployment of peacekeeping forces to the area in 2007. In early March, the newly created independent government media regulator, known as the High Communications Council (HCC), suspended the Bangui-based private weekly Centrafriqu’Un owing to an article criticizing alleged human rights abuses by soldiers from Chad, a regional ally of the Central African Republic’s government. On March 12, police arrested Michel Alkhaly Ngady, editor of the private weekly Le Temps and president of a local association of independent publishers known as GEPPIC which had encouraged Centrafriqu’Un to continue publishing despite the suspension due to “irregularities” within the HCC. Ngady, one of the journalists who had previously received threats in connection with his own reporting on the conflict, was charged with obstruction of justice for having criticized the HCC’s suspension of Centrafriqu’Un; he was sentenced on April 2 to two months in prison and fined approximately US$635. Ngady filed an appeal, but it was never heard. In general, local journalists reported that the culture of impunity for crimes committed against media workers was one of the primary restrictions on the practice of journalism.
Several dozen newspapers were published in 2007, though only a handful appeared regularly. Many of these were privately owned, including at least three independent dailies, and most were able to report on political and economic issues. Nonetheless, meager salaries and real or self-imposed censorship in a less-than-dynamic media market continue to hamper the editorial freedom of news organizations. The private press is restricted almost entirely to the capital, the result of financial constraints and the lack of a reliable postal service as well as the danger of working in the countryside, where armed groups operate with impunity. The state remains dominant in the broadcast sector, and private radio stations, reined in by legal and financial restrictions, are often intimidated by the powerful. A prominent exception is Radio Ndeke Luka, managed by the Switzerland-based Fondation Hirondelle with support from the United Nations, which broadcasts on FM in the capital and occasionally on shortwave in the rest of the country. At year’s end, license applications for two new television stations and one new radio station were pending, according to the U.S. State Department. Internet access is open and unrestricted, and there are no reports that the government monitors e-mail. However, the communications infrastructure is almost nonexistent outside of Bangui, and less than 1 percent of the population was able to access this medium in 2007.