Freedom of the Press - Central African Republic (2006)

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 21
Political Influences: 22
Economic Pressures: 18
Total Score: 61

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 44
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (35 percent), Protestant (25 percent), Roman Catholic (25 percent), Muslim (15 percent
Ethnic Groups: Baya (33 percent), Banda (27 percent), Mandjia (13 percent), Sara (10 percent), Mboum (7 percent), other (10 percent)
Capital: Bangui

In December 2005, an overwhelming majority of voters approved a new constitution. The new document recognizes the freedom to inform and express opinions as fundamental rights of the country's citizens. Following intense lobbying by journalists and media associations, in December Parliament also passed a law decriminalizing press offenses. It will replace the controversial 1998 Press Law, which included provisions for prison terms with no parole for defamation and the "publication of false news." This bill still awaits a presidential seal of approval, and political leaders, state officials, and influential businesspeople continue to use criminal libel laws to prosecute journalists.

In May, parliamentary and presidential elections solidified the authority of President Francois Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup and had promised to improve press freedoms. The turbulent transition ending with the May elections forced a dozen reporters to flee abroad, some of whom still remain in exile. In the past, major political events have been linked to surges in violence against journalists. But despite street campaigning, rallies, and demonstrations through the year, there were fewer reported cases of attacks on the press than in previous years. However, the government still targeted those in the media industry who criticized the government, particularly in the months immediately preceding the election. In December, Communications Minister Fidel Gouandjika told media owners that he would take firm action against news organizations that ran unflattering stories about the country. Radio Ndeke Luka, the leading private FM station with programming on human rights and peace building, was a consistent target of cabinet members and other state representatives. In May, two of its reporters were threatened with death by members of the presidential guard.

More than 30 newspapers published, with varying degrees of regularity, in 2005. Many of these were privately owned, and most were able to report on political issues such as government corruption and economic policies. Nonetheless, meager salaries and real or self-imposed censorship in a less than dynamic media market continue to hamper the editorial freedom of news organizations. The state remains dominant in the broadcast sector, and private radio stations, reined in by legal and financial restrictions, are often intimidated by the powerful. Internet access is open and unrestricted to the general public, though on occasion the government was reported to have limited internet access for journalists who were believed to be critical of the government.

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