Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Gabon
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Gabon, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566a123.html [accessed 11 July 2014]|
In July, the Gabonese legislature amended the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, opening the way for President Omar Bongo, who has been in office for 36 years, to be president for life. The state-controlled L'Union newspaper, the country's only daily, said the amendment would usher in "a new era for our democracy and our country." In fact, the constitutional change shows that opposition and pro-democracy movements remain weak and marginalized in this oil-rich Central African nation.
Throughout 2003, the government's National Communications Council (CNC), which is supposed to promote press freedom and ensure quality journalism, continued the crackdown on private media that it began more than four years ago ahead of presidential elections.
Continuing its pattern of shuttering any private newspapers that dare criticize authorities, the CNC in May suspended the private weekly Le Temps the day after the paper published an article accusing members of the government of embezzling funds meant for coordinating the national independence festival. In September, the CNC banned two other private newspapers, La Sagaie and Sub-Version, for allegedly "attacking the dignity of the institutions of the Republic," among other charges. In December, the CNC suspended the private bimonthly L'Autre Journal, accusing it of publishing "defamatory articles."
Meanwhile, Misamu, a private bimonthly known for its critical stance, remains closed. It had been banned in early 2002 for reporting on official corruption but resumed publishing in the fall of that year. In May 2003, however, the CNC suspended Misamu again, citing an ownership dispute between the paper's editor and a senator. In September 2003, the CNC extended the suspension, again citing the dispute. But local journalists suspect that the ownership issue is being used as an excuse to keep the paper shut.
Because the ruling Democratic Party controls all state institutions, including the judiciary and the CNC, self-censorship in the media is rife. Journalists also complain that, while a handful of private newspapers exist, many are bankrolled by members of the government and can become pawns in political power struggles. High printing costs and low salaries make it difficult for both publications and journalists to remain independent.
Financial constraints mean that most privately owned publications cannot appear regularly, and several newspapers are printed in neighboring Cameroon to reduce costs. In May, Communications Minister Mehdi Teale announced that the government would allocate 500 million CFA francs (US$937,490) to support media development. However, journalists say that in the past, the government used such funds to buy favorable coverage.
Several private radio stations broadcast in Gabon in addition to the state-run Radio Télévision Gabonaise, but local journalists say that most private stations do not focus on news. Only foreign stations provide regular independent news, including Radio France Internationale, Voice of America (VOA), and the BBC, which began broadcasting on the FM band in Gabon in 2003. Also this year, after several attempts, the BBC managed to secure a license from the CNC to operate its own antenna in the capital, Libreville. VOA programs are broadcast on FM in Libreville via cooperation with a local private radio station.
2003 Documented Cases – Gabon
MAY 13, 2003
The National Council on Communications (CNC) suspended the private bimonthly Misamu, citing an ownership dispute between the paper's editor, Noel Ngwa Nguema, and a senator. Local journalists told CPJ that the ownership issue is an excuse to shutter the paper because it has criticized the government.
On September 19, the CNC sent a letter to Misamu informing it that the suspension is extended until Gabonese authorities rule on the paper's ownership.
MAY 15, 2003
The National Council on Communications (CNC) suspended the private weekly Le Temps the day after the newspaper published an article alleging that members of the government were appropriating funds earmarked for the coordination of a festival commemorating the country's independence.
On May 15, a CNC spokesman announced on state television that the newspaper was suspended indefinitely. Two days later, the newspaper's directors received a letter from the CNC ordering the newspaper suspended for three months. The letter mentioned the article that ran in Le Temps and accused the newspaper of "attacking the nation's credibility." The newspaper began publishing again on August 20.
AUGUST 22, 2003
Noel Ngwa Nguema, Sub-Version
The Gabonese minister of finance invited Nguema, a contributor to the satirical bimonthly Sub-Version, to meet with Gabonese President Omar Bongo. Nguema told CPJ that during the meeting, which National Council on Communications (CNC) President Pierre-Mari Ndong and Communications Minister Mehdi Teale also attended, President Bongo accused Sub-Version of attacking the government by writing about first lady Lucie Bongo. An article that appeared in the paper's second edition on August 20 suggested that the first lady was meddling in politics, according to local journalists.
Nguema told CPJ that President Bongo threw a heavy ornament at him and attempted to physically assault him. The president also told CNC President Ndong that he never wanted to see the newspaper again, said Nguema.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2003
Posted: September 29, 2003
The National Council on Communications (CNC) sent a letter to the bimonthly private newspaper La Sagaie banning the paper for inciting tribal and printing reports "attacking the freedom and dignity of the institutions of the Gabonese republic." Local journalists said the charges stemmed from an article alleging that people from the southeastern Haut-Ogoué region dominate the country's government and army.
On August 22, Communications Minister Mehdi Teale had appeared on Gabonese state television and warned La Sagaie of "legal action" and "severe punishment," according to local journalists. That same day, the CNC sent a memo to the Interior Ministry urging the ministry to seize the newspaper and monitor its content, according to journalists who read the letter. Journalists at La Sagaie told CPJ that the newspaper canceled its next edition following the televised announcement.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2003
Posted: September 29, 2003
Kimote Memey, Sub-Version
Abel Mimongo, Sub-Version
Stanislas Boubanga, Sub-Version
Chartrin Ondamba, Sub-Version
Police seized the third edition of the satirical bimonthly Sub-Version at the airport in the capital, Libreville, and detained four of the paper's staff for questioning for several hours. Memey, Mimongo, Boubanga, and Ondamba had gone to the airport to collect copies of the paper, which is printed in Cameroon to reduce costs.
On September 19, the National Council on Communications (CNC) sent a letter to the newspaper's publications director ordering Sub-Version to cease publication, according to journalists at the paper. The letter also accused Sub-Version of carrying articles "attacking the dignity of the president, his family, and the institutions of the Republic." Journalists at the newspaper told CPJ that the order stemmed from an article that appeared in the paper's second edition on August 20 suggesting that first lady Lucie Bongo was meddling in politics.
On August 22, Communications Minister Mehdi Teale appeared on Gabonese state television and warned Sub-Version of "legal action" and "severe punishment," local journalists said. The same day, the CNC sent a memo to the Interior Ministry urging the ministry to seize the newspaper and monitor its content, according to journalists who read the letter.
DECEMBER 12, 2003
Posted: December 23, 2003
Police officers seized the entire run of the second issue of the privately owned bimonthly L'Autre journal at the airport in the capital, Libreville. The issue was printed in Cameroon because Multipress, the state-run printing company that had printed the first issue of the paper, refused to print the second, according to local journalists.
On December 23, journalists at the newspaper received a letter from the National Council on Communications (CNC), dated December 19, which ordered the paper suspended indefinitely. The letter accused the newspaper of publishing articles that might "disturb public order." Local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the issue contained an editorial criticizing the government's repression of the private press in Gabon as well as an article criticizing the government's alleged mismanagement of funds from Gabon's oil industry.
The first issue of the paper had featured a front-page article alleging that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has delayed reaching an agreement with Gabonese authorities because of mismanagement of IMF funds in the past. The second issue also had a front-page article commenting on Gabon's negotiations with the IMF.