In a country struggling to emerge from civil war, journalists and media organisations are caught between armed groups and the authorities. The government’s rapprochement with Russia has brought a surge in disinformation.
Only two TV channels exist in the CAR, where radio remains the dominant source of information. Several dozen radio stations operate nationwide. Radio Ndeke Luka, one of the few outlets to respect facts and sources, the Network of Journalists for Human Rights (RJDH) and some associations of bloggers and journalists doing fact-checking are regularly subject to pressure. The print media – consisting of about 60 publications, which are not distributed beyond Bangui, the capital – are easily manipulated. Their content is often little more than opinion pieces, rumours, and smear campaigns.
Despite their exceptionally poor financial situation, which goes back years, state-owned media remain influential and are under government control. Journalists have accused the High Council for Communication of imposing arbitrary sanctions. But these sanctions can also be imposed by the government itself, as was the case in 2021, when it blocked two news websites. Independent media are often subjected to intimidation attempts. After the broadcast of several investigative reports exposing shortcomings in the country’s governance in 2022, the Minister of Communication informed one of the main independent radio stations in the country that the terms of its partnership with the government and the amount of taxes it has to pay would be reviewed.
A new law on freedom of communication was adopted in 2020, replacing a law dating back to 2005. In theory, it was meant to protect journalists, but in practice it has not fostered independent, quality journalism. October 2022 saw a setback to press freedom in the form of a proposed law that would criminalise press offences and allow the government to control the media regulator, all this against a backdrop of frequent attacks on journalists.
Poverty and civil war have held back the media’s development. Journalists are so poorly paid that per diem payments by event organisers are often their main source of income. When the Russians arrived in 2018, they started a radio station and took control of many media outlets and blogs, which now disseminate propaganda and false information, mostly targeting France and French journalists in the CAR.
Much of the country is not controlled by the government and officials are increasingly intolerant of criticism. Journalists who interview other parties to the conflict are routinely treated as spies or as accomplices of the various armed groups. Reporters are often subjected to pressure, threats, violence or cyber-harassment. Murders of journalists go completely unpunished. The list of journalists killed since 2013 includes Elisabeth Blanche Olofio, Désiré Luc Sayenga and René Padou, the French photojournalist Camille Lepage, and three Russian investigative reporters – Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Alexander Rastorguyev – who travelled to the CAR in 2018 to report on the presence of Russian mercenaries. A newspaper editor was detained for ten days in September 2022 over an article about a case of embezzlement.