Freedom of the Press - Central African Republic (2007)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 19 (of 30)
Total Score: 58 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Status change explanation: Central African Republic's rating improved from Not Free to Partly Free as a result of positive change in the environment for the media following the government's adherence to, and enforcement of, the new Press Law and constitution passed in 2005 respecting freedom of expression and decriminalizing libel.

The 2005 constitution provides for freedom of the press, though authorities have used intimidation and legal harassment to limit reporting, particularly on sensitive topics such as official corruption. In December 2005, an overwhelming majority of voters approved this new constitution, which recognizes the freedom to inform and express opinions as fundamental rights of the country's citizens. In addition, the new Press Law decriminalizing many press offenses, including defamation and slander, was approved by President Francois Bozize in early 2005; criminal penalties remain for incitement to ethnic or religious hatred and for the publication or broadcast of false information that could "disturb the peace." In 2006, the government generally respected these new laws – a noticeable improvement from the previous year, when the security forces arrested, detained, and threatened journalists.

Maka Gbossokotto, one of the Central African Republic's most prominent journalists and a correspondent for Reporters Sans Frontieres, led the struggle to decriminalize press offenses after his own imprisonment for defamation in 2004. No journalist was imprisoned in 2006, but Gbossokotto, who edits the independent daily Le Citoyen, received threats in January from a former member of the presidential guard after Le Citoyen reported on an outbreak of violence between factions of the military police in the capital, Bangui. The same month, President Bozize dissolved the executive board of the newly created High Communications Council in what appeared to be an attempt to strengthen the government's control of the media regulatory body. However, in July the president agreed to pass a new decree mandating parity between representatives of the private and public media within the council, a move supported by local journalists' organizations. In November, in response to politically motivated death threats against the heads of publications, a newspaper strike prevented a single newspaper from appearing on the streets of Bangui.

More than 30 newspapers published, with varying degrees of regularity, in 2006. Many of these were privately owned, including at least 3 independent dailies, 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 private press is restricted almost entirely to the capital, the result of financial constraints as well as the danger of working in the countryside, where anti-Bozize rebels as well as militias connected to the ongoing conflicts in neighboring Sudan and Chad operate with impunity. 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. A prominent exception is Radio Ndeke Luka, a joint initiative of the UN and the Switzerland-based Fondation Hirondelle, which broadcasts on FM in the capital and on shortwave in the rest of the country. Internet access is open and unrestricted, though the communications infrastructure is almost nonexistent outside of Bangui and less than 0.5 percent of the population was able to make use of this medium in 2006.

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