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)
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The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but authorities continued to employ legal harassment, threats, and financial pressure to curb critical reporting in 2012.
Libel can be treated as either a civil or a criminal offense, and the government is permitted to criminalize civil suits and initiate criminal cases in response to the alleged libel of public officials. Publications can also be suspended for libel and other offenses. The justice system was used to curtail press freedom on numerous occasions during 2012. In March, six journalists were summoned for questioning on their connections to a story that accused President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s chief of staff, Maixent Accrombessi, of smuggling drugs, money, and women on the presidential plane during an unofficial trip to Benin, which was widely reported in the Beninese press. Two of the journalists fled the country for fear of being jailed, though none of the six were formally charged. In October, the General Directorate for Investigation interrogated Olivier Ndembi, a reporter for the progovernment daily L’Union, for failing to disclose the names of several Gabonese politicians who were alleged to be involved in ritual killings, a taboo subject in the country.
There is no freedom of information law, and access to official information remains difficult in practice.
In 2012, the government continued to use its main media regulatory body, the National Communications Council (CNC), to restrict critical journalism. Since all nine members of the CNC are appointed by Bongo and the presidents of the two chambers of parliament (both from Bongo’s Gabonese Democratic Party), the body has been accused of being subject to considerable political interference. In May, Guy Bertrand Mapangou, Bongo’s former presidential spokesman, was named to chair the CNC, with local observers anticipating that he would impose increased sanctions on journalists. In January, the CNC had suspended TV+ for three months and the private weekly Échos du Nord for two months for disseminating a New Year’s address by TV+ owner and opposition leader André Mba Obame. The move followed a three-month suspension of TV+ in 2011 for broadcasting Obame’s mock presidential inauguration, meant to question the legitimacy of Bongo’s 2009 election. In August, the CNC suspended two newspapers, Ezombolo and La Une, for six months for allegedly disrespecting public institutions. Two progovernment newspapers, Le Scribouillard and Le Gri Gri de la Griffe, were suspended for two months in September for publishing an unflattering cartoon of a prominent politician.
Most media outlets occasionally voiced criticism of the government and ruling party, but self-censorship persisted, especially when it came to the president. There were no reports of physical attacks on journalists during 2012, though intimidation of opposition affiliates did occur. In August, more than a dozen gunmen raided TV+ and burned its transmitters, marking the second attack on the building since 2009.
The two government-affiliated newspapers, L’Union and Gabon Matin, are the only dailies in the country. Twenty-three private weeklies and monthlies print sporadically due to financial constraints and government-ordered suspensions. Foreign publications are readily available. Gabon has seven private radio stations and four private television stations. The government owns two radio stations and two television stations that broadcast nationwide. Satellite television is also available to those who can afford it, and foreign radio broadcasts are widely accessible. Government officials and other powerful figures use financial pressure to control the press, and ownership of media outlets is opaque.
Nearly 9 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2012. There were no reports of internet censorship, but until 2011, access to the sole fiber-optic submarine cable was monopolized by Gabon Telecom, and broadband internet penetration was limited by high costs and lack of availability outside the capital. The arrival of a second cable in 2011, part of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project, improved the prospects for lower prices, wider connectivity, and increasing internet use.