Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 14 (of 30)
Total Score: 53 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.
Senegal's steady decline in media freedom continued in 2008, with several cases of imprisonment, physical attacks against journalists and media houses, and unprecedented verbal assaults by President Abdoulaye Wade. Article 80 of the penal code, which assigns prison terms for threatening public security, has been used repeatedly to punish journalists and offending media outlets. Because Wade had come into power after years as a persecuted opposition politician, many thought he would usher in a new era of strengthened civil and political liberties, legal protections for media independence, and abolition of harmful laws like criminal libel legislation. At the start of his second seven-year term in February 2007, Wade not only failed to deliver on prior commitments, he quickened the pace of media persecution. During a July 2008 visit to Chicago, he condoned the police beating of two journalists at a Dakar soccer stadium in June and denounced Senegalese journalists in general, dismissing them as "politicians." Regulatory bodies like the National Council for the Regulation of Broadcasting (CNRA) were accused of unfairness in their enforcement of standards, fines, fees, and other measures designed to ensure equitable access to the airwaves. The CNRA remained largely silent in 2008, or was sidelined as media practitioners faced mounting pressure from other sources.
Criminal prosecutions of media workers continued in 2008. In May, editor in chief Serigne Saliou Samb and reporter Jules Diop of the private daily newspaper L'Observateur were convicted of criminal defamation and received suspended six-month prison sentences. Their newspaper was fined 30 million CFA francs (US$72,000). One week later, director Papa Moussa Gueye of the private daily L'Exclusif received a six-month suspended prison term for publishing "false news." In 2007, Gueye had been jailed for four weeks along with the paper's owner, Pape Moussa Doucar, after they ran a front-page story by reporter Justin Ndoye on the "nocturnal escapades" of the president. Ndoye went into hiding after the story was published, and police issued an arrest warrant for him. Separately, in September 2008 editor El Malick Seck of the daily 24 Heures Chrono was convicted of offending the head of state, publishing false news, and threatening public order for an article claiming that the president was involved in money laundering. The paper was one of two privately owned newspapers whose offices were attacked in mid-August by men driving government vehicles. They smashed computers and used pepper spray on employees. The attacks were later linked to the air transport minister, who was dismissed. Twelve men implicated in the attacks were prosecuted and given sentences ranging from five to six years in prison.
The increasing physical harassment and jailing of journalists exacerbates a climate of intimidation in which politicians and their supporters occasionally resort to extraordinary measures to silence critical and opposition viewpoints. In April, a Walf TV reporter was attacked as he attempted to cover a violent antigovernment protest motivated by the rising cost of living. The police later raided the station's studios and confiscated footage of the protests, which had been violently dispersed by the authorities. Walf TV is one of four private television channels in Senegal; it also publishes the independent newspaper Wal Fadjri. The latest attacks against the press followed several cases of assault and harassment in 2007, including the government shutdown of radio station Premier FM on the grounds of licensing irregularities.
Despite the hostile climate for the media, Senegal still has many private, independent print publications. A number of community, private, and public radio stations operate across the country, and more than 80 radio frequencies have been allocated to date. Journalists continued to criticize government efforts to control media content by selectively granting or withholding state subsidies, which were given to both government-affiliated and private outlets. The government frequently used subsidies to pressure the media not to publicize certain issues. Critics say Wade's associates in politics, business, and the religious community receive preferential treatment in the allocation of frequencies and fees. Of the four private television channels that now operate, most are entertainment channels. The only national television station, Radiodiffusion Television Senegalaise, is required by law to be majority controlled by the state. Its news coverage generally favors the government. Foreign satellite television and radio stations, including Radio France Internationale and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are available and unrestricted. Internet access is also unrestricted, but only 6.1 percent of the population used the medium in 2008.
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