Freedom of the Press 2008 - Benin
|Publication Date||29 April 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Benin, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f5f0c.html [accessed 25 January 2015]|
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11 (of 30)
Political Environment: 10 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 10 (of 30)
Total Score: 31 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
Status change explanation: Benin's status declined from Free to Partly Free owing to the continuation of criminal libel cases and the increased polarization in the growing number of politically-funded media outlets.
Benin has typically been one of the best performing African countries for press freedom – freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and normally respected by the government. However, a number of worrying trends that began in the 2006 election year continued to plague the press in 2007. The country's 1997 Press Law that criminalizes libel has traditionally been used more as a warning than as actual punishment. Yet, it was implemented in December 2006 against a private newspaper for refusing to retract a story accusing a court bailiff of rape. The paper's editor and one of its journalists were sentenced to six months in prison, though both only served three in the end. In February 2007 the trend continued when a court sentenced four top officials from the prominent Golfe Media Group to six months in prison and an exorbitant US$10,000 fine each on charges of criminal defamation. Golfe Media has appealed, but the case had yet to be heard in court before the end of the year. In December, Golfe Media was also subject to government harassment when one of its cameramen was arrested while covering a public demonstration. He was subsequently beaten at a police camp and his camera confiscated.
Leading up to the presidential election in 2006, the number of media outlets grew with the number of competing political parties and politicians. Many of these media groups were paid from the pockets of politicians and represented distinctly partisan positions. Yet even into 2007, many of these new outlets did not disappear leading to the polarization of media content and, to a certain extent, the corrosion of impartial reporting. Yet the benefit of having such a multitude of media outlets is the diversity of content and the willingness of outlets to criticize both the government and opposition politicians, typically without reprisal. Yet, the inability of most of Benin's media operators to garner a consistent profit also limits accuracy and fairness in reporting by making poorly paid reporters susceptible to bribes. The High Authority for Audio-Visual Media and Communications is also requiring media outlets to provide a list of planned programs and publications, but it claims that the material is used primarily for administrative purposes. Nonetheless, most media practitioners consider this to be an attempt at censorship and refuse to comply without penalty.
While internet access is still primarily available through slow dial-up internet cafes, the number of users has almost doubled from the previous year to 700,000 – nearly 9 percent of the population.