Freedom of the Press
Senegal’s press freedom environment has been relatively open under President Macky Sall, who took office in early 2012. However, several journalists were detained during 2015, with the authorities accusing them of threatening national security and “insulting the president.” Many media outlets nonetheless continued to produce content that was critical of the government. Despite promises from senior officials in recent years, there was no progress on decriminalizing defamation or adopting freedom of information legislation.
- In July, three newspaper publishers and one reporter were detained and questioned about their sources for three separate stories. Two of the journalists were subsequently arrested and charged with “violating defense secrecy” over a story about Senegalese military deployments. Another was charged with the publication of classified information about an investigation into a celebrity charged in a counterfeit banknote case.
- In December, the chief executive of a media group and three of its employees were detained and questioned after a broadcast about a corruption scandal; the broadcast had addressed allegations that the scandal was connected to campaign financing for opposition candidates in the country’s 2012 elections. At least one of the journalists was accused of “insulting the president,” as Sall had been an opposition candidate in 2012.
Legal Environment: 19 / 30 (↓1)
Article 8 of the 2001 constitution protects freedoms of opinion, expression, and the press, and Article 10 guarantees the right to express opinions freely in speech, in writing, in images, and by peaceful assembly. These freedoms are occasionally limited in practice. Under Sall’s predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, the government used provisions of the 1977 penal code—including Article 80, which criminalizes vaguely defined threats to national security—to harass, prosecute, fine, and incarcerate critical journalists. The use of these provisions has declined under Sall.
However, groups of journalists were detained for their work on two occasions during 2015. In mid-July, the publisher of the newspaper L’Observateur, Alioune Badara Fall, and a journalist from the paper, Mamadou Seck, were arrested and charged with “violating defense secrecy” over a May article that had discussed details of the deployment of Senegalese troops to Yemen in support of a Saudi-led military campaign. The journalists were summoned for questioning about their sources for the story before being arrested. Also that day, Mamadou Wane, publisher of the newspaper L’Enquête, was summoned and briefly detained to face questions on his sources for an article about military appointments. Justifying the arrests of Fall and Seck, Defense Minister Augustin Tine declared that “the stability of our country” depended on journalists not publishing certain information; Tine also vowed that the journalists’ sources in the armed forces would be hunted down. A fourth journalist, Mouhamad Guèye, publisher of the newspaper Le Quotidien, was detained on the same day as his colleagues before being arrested and accused of publishing classified information related to an investigation of Thione Seck, a singer who had been charged in connection with a counterfeit banknote network.
In a second spate of detentions in December, authorities summoned and questioned four journalists from the media group D-Média after a television and a radio station run by the group broadcast programs on a corruption scandal surrounding Lamine Diack, a Senegalese national who was the former head of the International Track and Field Federation. The programs discussed allegations that Diack had helped to finance opposition electoral campaigns in 2012. The four detained were Massamba Mbaye, the chief executive of D-Média, and three journalists from the group: Ndèye Astou Guèye, Mamadou Mansour Diop, and Pap Bess Diba. They were all accused of either “insulting the president” or refusing to hand over recordings of the broadcasts to which authorities objected.
Although President Sall has pledged to support stronger protections for press freedom, there has been little legislative progress. In August 2014, the National Assembly rejected a proposed media code that would have decriminalized a number of press offenses. Media watchdogs noted the persistence of several other laws—including Article 362 of the penal code, which prescribes fines and prison terms for libel—that can be used to limit freedom of the press. No legislation guarantees the right to access information. In 2015, legislators continued to let the proposed media code languish, attracting criticism from the main journalists’ union, the National Union of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal (SYNPICS).
The National Council of Audiovisual Regulation (CNRA), established in 2006 to replace the High Audiovisual Council (HCA), is composed of nine members appointed by the president. In a quarterly report covering the last three months of 2015, the CNRA chastised the audiovisual media for their lack of respect for the “institutions of the Republic.” It also said journalists must remember that Article 10 of the constitution provides for freedom of speech, as long as the speech does not threaten “public order,” among other interests, or undermine “religious and philosophical beliefs.”
Political Environment: 16 / 40
Journalists occasionally face political pressure or harassment by the authorities, although such problems have declined during the Sall presidency. There have been some reports of self-censorship among journalists, particularly those who work for government media organizations. In December 2015, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern that the detention and questioning of the four D-Média employees could indicate that the government was discouraging journalism about corruption.
Physical obstruction or abuse of journalists is rare. However, in March, a journalist for Radio Futur Média who was attempting to cover a press briefing by former president Wade was allegedly manhandled and prevented from entering the event by members of Wade’s political party. In June, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) published an alert discussing allegations that the mayor of Kaffrine had brandished a gun at a journalist in late May.
Economic Environment: 14 / 30
Many private, independent print outlets publish regularly, although they have limited reach in rural areas. One major newspaper group is state owned. Radio is the most important source of news due to high illiteracy rates, and a wide range of public, private, and community radio stations operate on more than 80 frequencies. Some community radio operators have complained that frequencies are not allocated in a transparent manner.
There are several private television channels, although they mainly carry entertainment programming. The state-owned Radiodiffusion Télévision Sénégalaise (RTS) generally favors the government in its news coverage, and the president oversees the selection of its 12-member board. Foreign satellite television and radio stations, including Radio France Internationale and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are available and unrestricted.
Internet access is unrestricted, and penetration reached 22 percent in 2015. The rapid growth of mobile telephone use in recent years has led to wider access to news and social-networking websites for many residents. According to a Pew Research Center study released in April 2015, a survey conducted the previous year found that 15 percent of Senegalese adults owned smartphones.
Under Wade, the government was accused of selectively granting or withholding state subsidies to influence media outlets, a practice that appears to have continued under Sall.