Freedom of the Press 2008 - Cote d'Ivoire
|Publication Date||29 April 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Cote d'Ivoire, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f5fbc.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 20 (of 30)
Political Environment: 27 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 19 (of 30)
Total Score: 66 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but since the 2002 rebellion that divided the country into government and rebel-held portions, the government has reduced media freedoms in the name of patriotism and national unity. This situation improved slightly in 2007 with the signing of a peace accord between the government and rebels, and the dismantling of the confidence zone that separated the country into north and south. The removal of this internal has made it a bit easier for journalists and others to travel around the country in pursuit of a story. Yet despite these improvements, journalists continued to face the almost constant threat of defamation suits and the possibility of interrogation and imprisonment for articles critical of the president.
Parliament scrapped criminal libel and other punitive laws for press offenses in December 2004. However, the government still retains the power to criminalize any libel suit at its discretion. Although this power was not used in 2007, one journalist with the private daily Soir Info was imprisoned for five days in January on contempt of court charges after he published an article accusing the state prosecutor of corruption. In addition, a great number of journalists were charged with defamation in the civil courts, often receiving crippling fines. For example, in September lawyers representing President Laurent Gbagbo himself have demanded financial compensation from five journalists at two pro-opposition newspapers, Le Jour Plus and Le Rebond, for publishing articles accusing the president of corruption. Gbagbo initially demanded compensation of over US$300,000 from each defendant. His lawyers have instead requested US$43,000 from each – a smaller sum, but still one that would ruin both papers. The cases were undecided at year's end.
Journalists are vulnerable to physical and other abuses by police and extralegal militia, although the situation improved slightly over the previous year. In 2006, the militant progovernment Young Patriots had taken over the state-run Radiotelevision Ivoirienne (RTI) to broadcast hate speech threatening and beating those who resisted. While nothing to such an extreme took place in 2007, extralegal militia did see media houses as easy targets. In August, the progoverment student militia, the Student Federation of Côte d'Ivoire (FESCI), attacked the offices of L'Intelligent d'Abidjan, a private daily newspaper, threatening the staff if they did not publish a protest letter. The letter was in response to an article the paper had published alleging that FESCI had joined the opposition and had been refused three days prior. Similarly, from May four separate media houses – three progovernment and one affiliated with the opposition – were broken into in the middle of the night and robbed of documents, equipment and money. In all cases of attacks on or harassment of journalists in the past two year, no one has yet been prosecuted or even charged with these crimes.
Despite these multiple forms of intimidation of the media, journalists continue to publish aggressive stories that are critical of both the government and opposition politicians. Yet the government maintains control over the state-run media with a heavy hand. It runs two major radio stations, one of which is the only national station and a key source of news throughout the country. It also runs a daily newspaper, Fraternite Matin, which has the highest circulation in the country and regularly toes the government line.
Internet access, though severely constrained by poverty and infrastructure limitations (only 1.5 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2007), is unrestricted by the government.