Benin regulator orders “unauthorized” media outlets to close
Benin’s media regulator, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), has ordered the immediate closure of all “unauthorized” online media outlets, in what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears is a new way of censoring dissident media.
In a communiqué issued on 8 July, the HAAC said it had observed the “wholesale creation of online media without prior authorization” and ordered their promoters to “cease all publication without delay on pain of being subjected to the severity of the law.”
Nonetheless, the HAAC seems unsure how the new ban will be implemented. “There are people who don’t respond to morality surveys,” HAAC spokesman Fernand Gbaguidi said at a press conference, adding: “this constitutes a danger for the country.”
“It is surreal to conduct morality surveys as a condition for given permission to operate a news website,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “No technical or scarcity consideration justifies requiring prior authorization for online media, which would open the way to prior censorship and would endanger media freedom and independence.”
Diagne added: “We urge Benin to respect its international obligations. The freedom of expression may only be restricted after the event, after it has been abused, and any restriction must comply with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Benin has seen frequent press freedom violations since Patrice Talon became president in 2016. They include the 18-month prison sentence that Bénin Web TV’s Ignace Sossou has just spent six months in prison after he received in December 2019 of a charge of “harassment by means of electronic communications” for tweeting statements that a prosecutor made at a workshop on disinformation organized by the French media development agency CFI.
Soleil FM , a radio station owned by government opponent Sébastien Adjavon, was forced to stop broadcasting the same month because the HAAC refused to renew its licence. Its signal had previously been disconnected during the parliamentary elections held in April 2019.
The HAAC closed La Nouvelle Tribune, a pro-opposition newspaper, in May 2018 on the grounds that it had insulted President Talon and it closed four opposition broadcast media outlets in December 2016. Three of them are now back on the air but one, Sikka TV (which is also owned by Adjavon), is still unable to resume broadcasting despite a court ruling in May 2017 ordering its reopening.
Benin is ranked 113th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index .