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)
Senegal’s steady decline in media freedom comes despite years of promises made by President Abdoulaye Wade to protect it. Article 80 of the penal code is particularly harsh and is used repeatedly to severely punish journalists and offending media. Because Wade had come into power after years in opposition as a persecuted politician, many thought he would usher in a new era in which civil and political liberties would be strengthened, legal backing would be given to shield the independence of the media, and harmful laws like criminal libel legislation would be revoked. At the start of his second seven-year term of office in February 2007, President Wade not only failed to deliver on prior commitments, he quickened the pace of persecution of journalists. Wade’s antagonistic stance toward the free press was best exemplified in December when he “recommended” that journalists obtain feedback from officials prior to the publication of any government-related articles, to better enable the government to maintain a positive image.
A number of press freedom violations occurred in 2007, including harsh criminal libel cases and severe punishments for “threatening state security,” which were particularly common. These included the case of Moussa Gueye, managing editor of the private daily newspaper L’Exclusif, and Pape Moussa Doucar, the paper’s owner. Both men were arrested, imprisoned, and charged with endangering public security after their newspaper ran a front-page story by political reporter Justin Ndoye titled “Late Outings at the Presidency: The Nocturnal Escapades of President Wade.” Ndoye went into hiding after the story was published, and police issued an arrest warrant for him. It was only after an executive order was issued that Gueye and Doucar were released from detention. Separately, Pape Amadou Gaye, managing editor of the private Le Courrier, was detained and similarly charged with offending the state for an article holding the president responsible for the rising cost of living. He too was released from detention following an executive order seven days after his arrest. In March, facing accusations of defamation from a car dealership, Jean Meissa Diop, director of the private daily Walf Grand-Place, and one of the paper’s reporters, Faydy Drame, were each sentenced to six months in prison and fined US$23,000. In April, director Ndiogou Wack Seck of the private, progovernment daily Il Est Midi was also sentenced to six months in prison, fined US$90,000 for criminal defamation, and barred from working as a journalist for three months. These actions, as well as the suspension of Seck’s newspaper, followed the publication of a story criticizing several close associates of President Wade for their role in the 2006 release of an imprisoned former prime minister.
Although physical harassment of journalists was not as common as harsh libel cases, politicians and their supporters occasionally took extraordinary measures to silence critical and opposition viewpoints during the year. Such was the case with ruling party politician Moustapha Cisse Lo, who in April stormed the studios of Radio Disso FM with a dozen supporters following the broadcast of critical comments during a call-in show. The station filed a complaint with the police over the attack, but Lo filed a subsequent suit for defamation worth US$452,000. Separately in May, the government shut down the offices of Premiere FM and confiscated all of its equipment on the grounds of licensing irregularities; Premiere FM was not allowed to reopen for four months.
Institutional bodies like the National Council for the Regulation of Broadcasting (CNRA) with a mandate for monitoring and regulating the media sector were accused of unfairness in their enforcement of standards, fines, fees, and other measures designed to assure equitable access to the airwaves. The CNRA also remained largely silent or was sidelined as pressure was increased on media practitioners on all fronts. Despite the unwholesome climate for media practice, Senegal still has many private, independent print publications. A number of community, private, and public radio stations operate all over the country, and more than 80 radio frequencies have been granted so far. But more criticism has been leveled against the Wade administration for the nontransparent way in which frequencies are allocated and fees charged for access to airwaves. Critics say President Wade’s associates in politics, business, and the religious community get preferential treatment. The Wade administration refuses to accept private participation in the television sector except for entertainment channels. The only national television station, Radiodiffusion Television Senegalaise, is required by law to be majority controlled by the state. Its broadcasts generally give favorable coverage of the government. Foreign satellite television and radio stations, including Radio France Internationale and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are available and unrestricted. Internet access is also unrestricted, and penetration is now estimated at over 5 percent of the population.