Freedom of the Press - Senegal (2006)
|Publication Date||27 April 2006|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Senegal (2006), 27 April 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473451e711.html [accessed 12 December 2013]|
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 12
Political Influences: 20
Economic Pressures: 12
Total Score: 44
Life Expectancy: 56
Religious Groups: Muslim (94 percent), Christian [mostly Roman Catholic] (5 percent), indigenous beliefs (1 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Wolof (43.3 percent), Pular (23.8 percent), Serer (14.7 percent), Jola (3.7 percent), Mandinka (3 percent), Soninke (1.1 percent), European and Lebanese (1 percent), other (9.4 percent)
Worrying trends emerged in Senegal in 2005, particularly concerning government censorship of the media. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, the government restricts these rights in practice. Despite continued promises by President Abdoulaye Wade to decriminalize several press offenses, there have been no changes to Article 80 of the penal code and other laws that impose criminal penalties for defamation and the publication of materials that compromise national security. Press freedom was further endangered by a controversial broadcasting bill that was passed by a vote of 11 to 2 in the 120-seat Parliament in December. The bill now awaits the signature of President Wade, and if approved, will create a National Council for the Regulation of Broadcasting (CNRA). The new body would be made up of the president's appointees on a nine-member panel, only one of whom would be a professional with broadcasting credentials. The CNRA would function as a supreme tribunal with the power to monitor media behavior and impose punishments ranging from temporary closures to exorbitant fines of up to US$18,000. The new bill also strips the media profession's self-regulatory body – the Council for the Respect of Professional Ethics and Conduct – of its authority to monitor and sanction members of the media who act unprofessionally.
The year 2005 also witnessed a wave of bans and seizures of media outlets that discussed or interviewed the Casamance separatist rebel group or criticized local governments. In October, police shuttered and suspended broadcasts of the private radio station Sud FM for a day, while dozens of its staff members were detained for several hours. These actions were taken after the station aired an interview with Salif Sadio, a radical rebel leader. The distribution of the October 17 issue of Sud Quotidien, a newspaper distributed by the same independent media group that owns Sud FM, was also seized for publishing the transcript of the radio interview with Salif Sadio. In September, Chief Caliph Serigue Saliou Mbacke, a prominent local cleric, ordered the closure of three FM radio stations in the Muslim holy city of Touba. The shutdown order targeted the private station Disso, the local branch of the state-owned Radio Television Senegalaise, and the community radio station Hizbut Tarquiyah. The ban against the broadcasters was likely related to Disso's broadcast of phone-in programs, during which several callers criticized Touba's elected governing council. Local scholars, journalists, and civil society leaders condemned the ban, saying it symbolized the growing number of threats to press freedom in Senegal. Aside from overt threats and direct actions against the media, many journalists continue to practice self-censorship. There is pressure on the media not to report on certain issues, and the government often uses financial subsidies or more direct means to shape media coverage of public issues.
Senegal has many private, independent publications and a string of private and community radio stations. By the end of the year, more than 70 radio frequencies had been assigned to community, private, and public radio stations all over the country. Nevertheless, the Wade administration refuses to accept private participation in the television sector except for entertainment channels. The state owns and controls the only national television station, which broadcasts generally favorable coverage of the government. In the past, Senegal's media watchdog, the High Audiovisual Council, criticized the government-run television station for not reflecting diverse viewpoints and not allowing equal coverage of opposition members and religious groups. Foreign satellite television and radio stations that originate primarily from France and South Africa are available, as is unrestricted internet access for the 4.4 percent of the population with the means to afford it in 2005.