Freedom of the Press - Benin (2006)
|Publication Date||27 April 2006|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Benin (2006), 27 April 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473451a6e.html [accessed 23 July 2014]|
Legal Environment: 11
Political Influences: 9
Economic Pressures: 10
Total Score: 30
Life Expectancy: 54
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (50 percent), Christian (30 percent), Muslim (20 percent)
Ethnic Groups: African [42 ethnic groups, including Fon, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba] (99 percent), other (1 percent)
A country with one of the freest press environments in Africa, Benin has a constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press, and those provisions are largely respected in practice. Nonetheless, a 1997 press code that considers libel a crime is still in place, and in 2004 it was enforced when four journalists were prosecuted for defamation and two were imprisoned. However, 2005 saw an improvement in the treatment of journalists, with no reported cases of imprisonment or abuse. In December, the High Council for Audiovisual Media and Communications (HAAC) used the libel provision in the press code to condemn four daily newspapers and a radio station, although none have received a punishment more severe than a warning. In November, the HAAC also passed a provision limiting press freedom in the period prior to the March 2006 presidential election. This decision restricts the amount of time a media outlet can devote to political parties, presidential candidates, or even governmental institutions in the months leading up to the election. At the same time, it protects the president's right to "permanent and limitless access" to organs of the public press and forbids opinion pieces concerning political candidates that might jeopardize "national unity." Nonetheless, this decree will cease to apply after the 2006 election.
Benin is home to more than 30 daily newspapers, 5 television channels (of which 2 are privately owned), and countless national and local radio stations. Since the country's democratization in 1990, these independent press outlets have provided robust scrutiny of both government and opposition leaders. Radio stations like Golfe FM broadcast press reviews and daily reports in three of the country's main languages – French, Fon, and Yorouba – enabling greater access to the media, particularly in remote rural communities. However, owing to Benin's high level of poverty and the concentration of finances within the government, many of these independent newspapers originally began as tools of politicians intending to use them as propaganda machines. The inability of most of Benin's media operators to garner a consistent profit further limits accuracy and fairness in reporting by making poorly paid reporters susceptible to bribery and blackmail. Internet access is available primarily through dial-up internet cafés that remain unhindered by government censorship, although the high level of poverty in Benin severely limits the percentage of the population with access to this new media.