Senegal’s media are very diverse but this is offset by the fact that news coverage tends to be heavily politicised, especially in newspapers. Senegal has traditionally provided the media with a favourable environment but an increase in verbal, physical, and judicial threats against journalists is fuelling concern about a decline in press freedom.
Senegal has at least 27 daily newspapers, more than 20 general-interest and community radio stations, and around 20 TV channels. The online press is also highly developed, and includes Web TV news channels. The privately owned media provide a platform to all political parties, but the state-owned, national TV broadcaster focuses on the activities of the government and parties that make up the ruling coalition. The radio and TV stations owned by Futurs Médias and D-Média are among the most popular in the capital, Dakar. Newspapers have low circulation and, for the most part, are distributed only in Dakar.
Senegal’s solid democracy and laws guarantee press freedom. Most of the privately owned media try, independently, to expose or cover any governmental mismanagement and to stimulate political debate. The president continues to have the power to appoint the members of High Authority for Broadcast Communication Regulation (HARCA), leading media critics to question this regulator’s neutrality.
Despite a legal framework that tends to support journalists in the pursuit of their profession, journalists and media outlets are worried because basic press offences continue to be punishable by imprisonment under the press code adopted in 2017. And the lack of an access to information law continues to prevent journalists and the public from accessing state-held information.
Apart from the state-owned media and a few privately owned press groups, almost all of Senegal’s media lack an effective business model. Newspaper sales do not cover operating costs, state aid is insufficient and advertising is poorly distributed, with much of it going to the state-owned media.
Because of cultural and religious constraints, coverage of LGBTI issues continues to be difficult for journalists and sometimes elicits violent reactions and vilification. Covering news stories with a religious dimension also sometimes causes tension and even violence.
There was an increase in arrests and violence against media professionals in 2022. The months leading up to parliamentary elections saw a disturbing escalation in verbal and physical threats against journalists, particularly from political actors on all sides of the spectrum. For the first time since 2004, an investigative journalist spent almost two months in prison, accused – among other things – of disclosing information “liable to endanger national defence” and “false news liable to discredit public institutions”. The pre-trial detention of another journalist, as well as attacks on reporters have also fuelled concern for the safety of media personnel.