Reporters Without Borders today condemned what it called Gabon’s “persistently repressive impulses” after the National Communications Council (CNC) slapped suspensions and final warnings on eight privately-owned publications.
Private television channel Canal Espoir was also suspended in the CNC’s clampdown announced at a plenary session on 10 November, when it accused the offending media of “wholesale relaying of public rumours” and some articles of “spreading ethnic divisions, insults and slander”.
“While the Gabonese press is already operating in a difficult climate - some journalists report pressure and threats – the CNC’s decision is distressing because it is only aimed at punishing pluralist forms of expression”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Evidently, this regulatory body, whose independence from the Libreville government is doubtful, does not accept that the results of the presidential elections should be commented on, or that members of government and the ruling party should attract criticism.
“With these albeit temporary sanctions, the opposition press, critical or satirical has ended up being drastically cut back”, said the organisation, which voiced its backing for Gabon’s privately-run press.
Norbert Ngoua Mezui, founder and leader writer on the newspaper Nku'u le Messager, told Reporters Without Borders of his concern about “the deteriorating climate” for the media. He said he feared that the CNC decision might be only the first in a raft of measures aimed at gagging the press. He said the punishment was aimed at “the outspokenness of the media during the presidential campaign”.
The most severe punishment was meted out to the bi-monthly Echos du Nord, which was handed down a three-month suspension for an article it carried on 29 October headlined “The first fruits of a hooligan state”. Three publications, Le Scribouillard, L'Ombre and La Nation were banned from appearing for two months. The weeklies Nku'u le Messager and Le Crocodile were suspended for one month. The weekly Le Temps and a newspaper that appears irregularly, Gabon d'abord were both given last warnings to comply with the current rules on journalistic ethics.
Finally, the highly popular daily programme “Entre nous”, that gives live airtime to ordinary people, was also suspended. The CNC accused the television station Canal Espoir of “numerous failings in the mastery of techniques for live broadcasting”, but did not specify the length of the suspension.
Attempts by Reporters Without Borders to contact the CNC for an explanation of its decisions were unsuccessful.
Picture : copyright Gaboneco