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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Gabon

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Gabon, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566d723.html [accessed 31 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

President Omar Bongo, in office for 37 years, maintained a solid grip on power in this oil-rich Central African nation, where opposition movements are weak and the press is under bureaucratic assault. In 2004, the National Communications Council (CNC), a government-controlled media regulatory body, continued to censor private media outlets, provoking protests from local journalists.

In March, Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume Emane warned local journalists to "police" themselves and guard against "the bad faith with which some [private media] tarnish either the institutions of the Republic, or those who represent them," according to the state-owned L'Union (The Union), Gabon's only daily. In the past, the CNC has suspended publications for what it called "attacking the freedom and dignity of the institutions of the Gabonese republic."

The prime minister's statements came after the government and the CNC created a National Commission for Press Cards, which called on local journalists to submit applications for accreditation. While the press cards remained voluntary at year's end, independent journalists feared they might become another tool for the government to exert control over the press. The commission president, Joseph Loembé, did nothing to dispel this fear when he announced in February that the cards would permit authorities to weed out journalistic "imposters" and "separate the wheat from the chaff." The commission also recommended that press cards be used to determine which journalists receive access to official information, and that any new media organization be required to have at least two press card holders on staff. Neither recommendation had been instituted by year's end.

Jean-Yves Ntoutoume, secretary-general of the private press association known by its French acronym, APPEL, protested the commission, as did many Gabonese journalists. A February statement from APPEL said it "firmly denounces this masquerade orchestrated by the CNC," and Ntoutoume told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the cards amounted to a government attempt to track journalists.

The CNC, meanwhile, continued to harass and censor Gabon's small private press. In November, the CNC suspended the private broadcaster Radio Télévision Nazareth (RTN) for more than two weeks. At a November meeting with CNC and government representatives, Emane said the station violated journalistic ethics by broadcasting graphic images of car accidents, according to L'Union. Local journalists said the suspension stemmed from reporting that focused on the poor quality of life of many Gabonese citizens.

In December, the CNC shuttered the private satirical newspaper Gabon Show because of "ongoing legal wrangles that threaten the existence of this paper." The closure may have been linked to the paper's reporting on the arrest of Noel Ngwa Nguema, a well-known government critic, according to an AFP report. Nguema, former director of the banned independent bimonthly Misamu (The News), was arrested in November and later charged with arms trafficking.

High printing costs and low salaries make it difficult for journalists and publications to remain independent, according to local journalists. They said that while a handful of financially solvent publications exist, many are bankrolled by members of the government and can become pawns in political power struggles.

In March, police raided and searched the offices of the inoperative bimonthly newspaper L'Autre Journal (The Other Newspaper). Police told Publication Director Anaclet Segalt that they had not found what they sought in the raid, but they did confiscate the paper's staff directory, AFP reported. The CNC had suspended the private newspaper indefinitely in December 2003 for publishing articles that might "disturb public order." While L'Autre Journal had published articles critical of the government, local sources said the closure may have been linked to the paper's owner, Zacharie Myboto, a former Cabinet member who is now a government critic and potential presidential candidate.

While the imprisonment of journalists is rare in Gabon, local journalists still face a repressive press law that allows for prison penalties for offenses such as defamation. In September, Bongo told a meeting of local publishers that he would replace prison sentences with fines for press offenses, although no progress on this pledge had been made by year's end.


2004 Documented Cases – Gabon

MARCH 8, 2004
Posted: April 8, 2004

Alfred Ngamba, Le Nganga
IMPRISONED

Police arrested Ngamba, a journalist working for the private, satirical weekly Le Nganga, after summoning him in connection with an article published in the newspaper's most recent issue. On March 9, the joint prosecutor of the Republic ordered that Ngamba be transferred to the Central Prison in the capital, Libreville. The prosecutor referred to Ngamba's imprisonment as an "emergency measure," local sources reported.

According to Le Nganga Publication Director Loïc Bithegue, Ngamba was accused of defamation, "telephone harassment," and "attempting to extort money." The charges stemmed from an article published two weeks prior alleging that Dr. Alfonse Louma, president of a local nongovernmental organization that focuses on health education, and a close friend of the doctor's were having affairs with a woman named Arlette Okenkali. After the article was published, Okenkali brought the charges against Ngamba.

Ngamba's trial began on March 12, and on March 19 the journalist was acquitted of all charges. Ngamba was freed the same day.

NOVEMBER 12, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Radio-Télévision Nazareth
CENSORED

The National Communications Council (CNC), a government-controlled media regulatory body, suspended the private broadcaster Radio-Télévision Nazareth (RTN), citing licensing criteria. The Libreville-based network had been operating for more than a year, according to local sources. Local journalists said the suspension stemmed from RTN's television news reports, which often focused on the poor quality of life for many local residents.

The suspension order followed a meeting between representatives of the media, the CNC and the government, at which Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume Emane accused RTN of violating journalistic ethics by broadcasting graphic images of car accidents, and accused local private media of being irresponsible. RTN had also broadcast extensive footage of a June 2004 plane crash off the coast of Gabon in which 19 people died. Its broadcasts of the aftermath of the crash provoked condemnation from government authorities, according to local sources.

On December 2, the CNC lifted the suspension order against RTN, after the station agreed to reorganize its programs to conform to professional ethics and "the social mores of the country," according to the state-owned daily L'Union.

DECEMBER 3, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Gabon Show
CENSORED

The National Communications Council (CNC), a government-controlled media regulatory body, banned the private satirical newspaper Gabon Show because of alleged "ongoing legal wrangles that threaten the existence of this paper." According to local sources, the CNC accused Gabon Show of being linked to La Sagaie, a private newspaper shuttered by the CNC in September 2003 for allegedly inciting tribal hatred and "attacking the freedom and dignity of the institutions of the Gabonese republic."

According to sources at the paper, the ban stemmed from the paper's political commentary, which was often critical of the government. Agence France-Presse reported that the CNC's ban was enacted after Gabon Show criticized the arrest of Noel Ngwa Nguema, a religious figure and prominent government critic. Nguema, who is also the former director of the banned independent newspaper Misamu, was detained for one day in November and later charged with illegal arms possession. Several local publications expressed the opinion that the charges were trumped up, according to local sources.

DECEMBER 17, 2004
January 18, 2005

Le Temps
CENSORED

The National Communications Council (CNC), a government-controlled media regulatory body, suspended the private weekly Le Temps for one month, accusing the paper of failing to print its registration number on its masthead. Local journalists told CPJ that the accusation appeared to be baseless; each edition of Le Temps clearly displayed the number.

Local journalists said they believe the suspension is part of a general pattern of CNC harassment of the small private press in Gabon. Following the suspension, the local press association APPEL held a press conference at which its members accused the CNC of abusing its power and attempting to stifle independent journalism.

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