Freedom of the Press 2008 - Gabon
|Publication Date||29 April 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Gabon, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f604c.html [accessed 21 October 2014]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 24 (of 30)
Political Environment: 23 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 22 (of 30)
Total Score: 69 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The media environment remained restricted as the government continued to force journalists to choose between self-censorship and risking reprisal for criticism of its policies. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but authorities used legal harassment, threats, and financial pressure to curb critical reporting. Local media professionals face repressive press laws that allow for harsh penalties for libel – including a minimum sentence of three months for a repeat offense – particularly due to criticism of the president, his relatives, or members of his cabinet. Libel can be treated as either a civil or a criminal offense, and the government is permitted to criminalize civil suits and initiate criminal suits in response to the alleged libel of government officials.
The boundaries of acceptable political commentary in Gabon are ambiguous, frequently leaving journalists and media outlets vulnerable to government retaliation. A government agency charged with upholding journalistic standards, the National Communications Council (CNC), has a history of using intimidation tactics against the independent press and has forcibly shut down more than half a dozen publications since 2003. In March, authorities suspended the bimonthly private Edzombolo for three months following an article critical of the authority of President Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-serving head of state. In June, Guy-Christian Mavioga, director of the private L'Espoir, was sentenced to one month in jail plus a five month suspended sentence and fine for allegedly "offending the head of state" due to an article critical of Bongo. Mavioga was released after 38 days in a state of poor health, although the paper remained indefinitely suspended because it had allegedly violated a rule prohibiting state employees from controlling news outlets. In October, the Council suspended another bimonthly, La Nation, over an article critical of Culture Minister Blandine Marundu. The same month, the CNC blocked the Paris-based satirical paper Le Gri-Gri from printing and distributing in Gabon following criticism of a government mining contract.
Gabon has several private radio stations and four private television stations, although private broadcasting tends to be nonpolitical; the government owns two radio stations and two television stations that are able to broadcast nationwide. Approximately nine private weeklies and monthlies circulate in the capital, Libreville, although the state-affiliated L'Union is the country's only daily newspaper, and local journalists complain that many nominally private publications are controlled by political factions. Much of the private press appears irregularly because of financial constraints and frequent government censorship. Many Gabonese private newspapers are printed in Cameroon because of the high cost at the only local printing company, and publications printed outside the country are subject to review before distribution. Foreign publications and radio broadcasts are widely available. There are no reports that the government restricts internet access or monitors email, although less than six percent of the population had access to this electronic resource in 2007.