Media regulator’s sanctions to blame for climate of mistrust in Gabon
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for a complete overhaul of Gabon’s media regulator, the High Authority for Communication (HAC), after it suspended yet another media outlet for three months, contributing to a dangerous decline in press freedom.
Dubbed the “Axe” by many journalists, the HAC announced yesterday that it was suspending Gabon Media Time, one of the country’s most popular news sites, with immediate effect because its representatives had ignored a summons to attend a meeting of the HAC to hear a libel complaint. The complaint was brought by Karine Arissani, the executive secretary of Gabon’s Rail Transport Regulatory Agency (ARTF), who accused Gabon Media Time of “insulting, revolting and mendacious” allegations “questioning her integrity” in an article about her in March.
“It is not surprising that Gabonese media representatives, who must be tired of the repeated arbitrary suspensions, do not even respond to summonses from a regulator whose policy of systematic sanctions is largely to blame for Gabon’s fall in the World Press Freedom Index in recent years,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The many arbitrary or disproportionate sanctions have created a climate of mistrust. The sole aim of this policy has been to bring independent and critical media into line but, two years after the HAC began working, it has clearly failed. A thorough overhaul of this regulator is essential so that Gabon’s journalists and media can again work without fear of reprisals.”
This is not the first time that the HAC has targeted Gabon Media Time. It was suspended for a month in July 2019 for criticizing the financial management of some of the country’s hospitals.
The HAC’s most recent previous victim was Gabonews.com, a news website regarded as a pioneer in the use of cutting-edge web technology, which was suspended for a month in March for publishing a statement by a government critic.
The Gabonese Media Owners’ Organization (OPAM) issued a statement last week criticizing the HAC’s systematic imposition of sanctions that are “often questionable or unjustified” and calling for a “new approach” aimed at promoting a free and independent press.
According to RSF’s tally, the HAC has arbitrarily suspended 15 media outlets in Gabon since its creation in February 2018, often over articles criticizing the president or his close associates, the government or even the HAC itself, which has not hesitated to initiate proceedings of its own accord in order to settle scores with opposition or independent media.
The HAC’s policies are largely responsible for Gabon’s six-place fall in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, in which it is ranked 121st out of 180 countries.