Freedom of the Press - Congo, Republic of (Brazzaville) (2005)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 17
Political Influences: 17
Economic Pressures: 17
Total Score: 51

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 48
Religious Groups: Christian (50 percent), animist (48 percent), Muslim (2 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kongo (48 percent), Sangha (20 percent), Teke (17 percent), M'Bochi (12 percent), other (3 percent)
Capital: Brazzaville

The Republic of Congo's constitution guarantees press freedom, and the government generally respects this right in practice. In 2001, the government abolished censorship and sharply reduced penalties for defamation. The new press code liberalized the broadcasting sector, although political parties are not permitted to own radio or television stations. Prison sentences can still be handed down in cases of incitement to ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war, while libel is generally punishable by monetary fines. Media watchdog groups say that excessive fines are sometimes used to harass publications critical of the government. In late January 2004, officials from the state oil company filed six defamation complaints and sought heavy fines against the weekly L'Observateur for articles alleging mismanagement of public funds. Instances of physical harassment or attacks against journalists have become relatively rare.

About 10 private newspapers appear weekly in Brazzaville, and they often publish articles and editorials that are critical of the government. However, because these publications are not distributed widely outside the capital and other urban areas, most Congolese rely on radio broadcasts for information. The government continues to monopolize the broadcast sector, and journalists at state-owned outlets are expected to report favorably on official policies. According to the U.S. State Department, several journalists who deviated from this practice were transferred or removed from their jobs during the year. International correspondents based in Brazzaville also faced some pressure from authorities; in November, the government asked the BBC to remove their local correspondent, and a reporter for Radio France Internationale who was researching a politically sensitive story was detained and interrogated by security forces before being escorted onto her plane back to France. There are approximately 10 domestic Internet service providers and no government restrictions on Internet use.

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