Media regulator turned executioner
After years of very marked erosion of press freedom, 2020 saw a few encouraging signs, including the provision of more fairly-distributed assistance to the press and a more open dialogue between the authorities and journalists. But much remains to be done. Journalists continue to be subjected to intimidation, including summonses for questioning by intelligence officials or the military. The 2016 “communication code” abolished prison sentences for press offences but otherwise imposes authoritarian restrictions on the freedoms of not only the print media but also all other forms of broadcast, print, digital and cinematographic production. Ever since its creation in 2018, a new media regulator, the High Authority for Communication (HAC), has been imposing arbitrary sanctions on the media. Reporting critical of the president or his close associates has repeatedly resulted in suspensions designed to protect the regime’s interests. The HAC has gone so far as to suspend a newspaper just for criticising the arbitrary nature of its systematic sanctions. Far from encouraging the emergence of responsible, quality media, this policy helps to throttle the independent press and encourage self-censorship on sensitive subjects. Dubbed “The Axe” by some media outlets, the HAC is imposing these sanctions at a time of economic precarity for the media. Critical newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are losing both advertisers and state subsidies. A culture of media freedom and independence is struggling to take hold even online and, in 2019, Gabon joined the long list of countries that have disconnected the Internet during a coup attempt.
121 in 2020
37.20 in 2020