Freedom of the Press
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The Guinean media experienced a variety of challenges in 2015, particularly in connection with the presidential election held in October. The newly formed High Authority for Communications (HAC) heavily restricted reporting during the campaign period, monitoring content at private outlets and curtailing their access to the presidential candidates. In addition, government forces and civilian demonstrators assaulted journalists on multiple occasions, most frequently at protests related to the contentious electoral process.
- The HAC formally censured or issued warnings to five media outlets that accused it of suffering from excessive executive influence.
- A journalist with a private broadcaster disappeared in July and remained missing at year’s end, with media organizations urging investigators to examine any connection to his work.
Legal Environment: 19 / 30
Constitutional and legislative reforms enacted in 2010 improved the legal environment for the press, but some measures remain unimplemented, and prospects for achieving genuine press freedom are tenuous. Defamation against the head of state, members of parliament, the military, and other government institutions, as well as against particular ethnic and religious groups, are criminal offenses subject to high fines, as is reporting falsehoods. In June 2015, the National Assembly moved to strengthen punishments for several of these offenses, advancing legislation that provides for up to five years in prison and heavy fines for insulting or publishing false news about the president and other public officials. The measure had not been implemented by year’s end.
A law on access to information was adopted in 2010, but it has never been effectively enforced, reportedly as a result of bureaucratic delays, procedural errors, and resistance on the part of government employees who are reluctant to disclose their offices’ information.
In March 2015, the previous media regulatory body, the National Communication Council (CNC), was replaced by a new agency, the HAC. Though mandated to support equal treatment and foster a diversity of views in the media sphere, the CNC had historically taken punitive measures against media outlets that did not support the government, and the HAC continued this pattern. Officials from four newspapers and one radio station—Le Lynx, La Croisade, La Logique, Les Echos de Guinée, and Espace FM—were called before the HAC in March for their role in publicly denouncing irregularities in the implementation of the law governing the HAC and the influence of the executive branch over the body, which they argued undermined its independence and legitimacy. Diallo Souleymane, editor of Le Lynx, was particularly vocal in his criticism, having been involved in drafting the law himself. La Logique, La Croisade, and Les Echos de Guinée all received formal censures, while Le Lynx and Espace FM received warnings.
Political Environment: 29 / 40 (↓1)
The government has attempted to censor content it finds overly critical. In June 2015, the HAC published a list of restrictions on all press coverage appearing prior to the presidential election scheduled to take place in October. These included prohibitions on the publication of opinion or editorial pieces and any cultural content with the potential to stoke ethnic or tribal tensions. Following pushback from journalists, the HAC softened its language, and while it strongly encouraged reporters to maintain their professional ethics, it stopped short of banning opinion journalism. However, some of the restrictions were left in place, including a requirement that all call-in broadcasts be prerecorded.
In September, the HAC assumed full control over the presidential candidates’ interaction with the media. It began to produce content with the candidates for state-owned print and broadcast media, which it agreed to make available to private outlets that chose to carry it, but restricted their ability to interact with the candidates in other formats. The HAC also forbade the media from reporting on election results prior to the formal announcement of the winner by the national election body. In December, during the swearing-in ceremony for the newly reelected Alpha Condé, Guinean journalists were not granted access to the hall to record the ceremony live, though a number of foreign correspondents were allowed in.
There were numerous incidents of harassment and violence directed against journalists in 2015. In February, it was reported that the government was refusing to renew the accreditation of Radio France Internationale journalist Mouctar Bah, whose work had allegedly displeased President Condé. Also in February, police officers arrested two journalists in the village of Thionthian, where they were investigating large-scale deforestation. Local residents suspected that those involved in the deforestation bribed local officials to make the arrests and suppress news of the activity. The two were released after several hours, though their equipment was confiscated. In May, police assaulted and threatened to kill freelance reporter Youssouf Bah, who was covering demonstrations related to Guinea’s upcoming elections. The same day, police also assaulted and detained several journalists reporting on election issues at the residences of two high-profile opposition politicians. The managing editor of the news website Guinée Matin, Thierno Amadou Camara, was assaulted in July at a meeting of the opposition Party of Unity and Progress (PUP), and again in October in the city of Siguiri by members of the ruling Rally of the Guinean People (RPG). Several other journalists were also assaulted by police and obstructed in their work while covering the year’s frequent election-related demonstrations.
A journalist for Espace TV, Chérif Diallo, disappeared in July 2015 and remained missing at year’s end. Diallo was last seen driving away from Espace TV headquarters in Conakry after encountering a group of men who had been waiting outside his office. Though media organizations urged authorities to consider Diallo’s work as a potential motive for his disappearance, the government appeared reluctant to pursue the investigation from that angle.
Economic Environment: 17 / 30
Media laws passed in 2010 guarantee the freedom to open a newspaper, but in practice, economic difficulties present large obstacles. Because production costs are high, newspapers struggle to secure printing equipment and distribute a significant number of copies. The typical newspaper has a circulation of only a few thousand copies and does not publish with any regularity. A number of private publications, mostly weeklies, are published in Conakry and present a diversity of views, though distribution outside the capital is unreliable. The only daily newspaper, Horoya, is state owned and avoids criticism of the government; even this paper has struggled to maintain its production schedule due to outdated equipment.
In a country with high illiteracy rates, radio is the dominant medium. The public broadcaster Radio Télévision Guinéenne (RTG) operates radio and television stations with programming in French, English, and a number of local languages. Numerous private radio stations and some private television stations also operate across the country. Many citizens listen regularly to foreign programing on FM and shortwave radio. There are no government restrictions on access to the internet, and a number of online news sources have gained importance in recent years. However, despite recent advances, internet penetration remained very low at less than 5 percent in 2015.
Newspapers have difficulty securing enough advertising revenue to cover their costs, but since 1996 the government has provided increasing subsidies for both print and online media outlets of all political allegiances. Some critics have said that these subsidies are insufficient, irregularly allocated, and often poorly managed by the recipients. Some local newspapers and broadcast outlets are thought to be controlled by political or business interests. Low pay for journalists has led to unethical practices, such as accepting bribes to suppress unflattering stories.