Reporters Without Borders today sent an open letter to the President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbé, urging him not to promulgate a draft law passed by parliament on 30 October that would strengthen the powers of the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC). This is the text of the letter:
Mr Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé
President of the Republic
Lomé – Togo
Paris, 5 November 2009
Dear Mr President,
Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that defends press freedom, would like to draw to your attention our concern about a draft law adopted by the Togolese parliament on 30 October 2009 that will strengthen the powers of the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC).
Our organisation supports the existence of regulatory bodies for the media and the principle of professional self-regulation. But in this case we believe that the HAAC already has sufficient prerogatives. In fact, it has already on several occasions imposed sanctions against media. This year, for example, the HAAC has banned several publications, and for one week in April, suspended interactive programmes on the country’s radio and television stations.
The right, contained in the draft law recently adopted by parliament, to increase the duration of media bans and to ease proceedings for formal warnings or seizure of equipment, seem to us unjustified. Encouraging the HAAC to rule as a “disciplinary adviser” by giving it permission to conduct hearings with journalists “responsible for serious errors” also seems worrying to us. The concept of a “serious error” is vague and subjective and should be more precisely defined within a strict legal framework.
Mr President, the HAAC is a regulatory body. It should not be turned into a “media police”, with powers that are too coercive and which would not fail to provide ammunition to supporters of political extremism. You are now the only authority that can prevent this dangerous drift. That is why we solemnly ask you not to promulgate this law which will amend the law of 15 December 2004.
In taking such a decision, you will send a strong and reassuring signal to journalists, to your citizens as well as to the international community. Ahead of presidential elections in early 2010, a crucial period for Togo, you will reassure public opinion and demonstrate your determination not to obstruct the holding of a free and pluralist debate.
I trust you will respond favourably to our request.