“La Nouvelle Tribune is finished. On to the next one,” a cartoon on the newspaper’s front page said yesterday, a day after the HAAC issued its decision to close it until further notice for “conducting during recent months an insulting and offensive campaign violating the Head of State’s privacy and using a degrading vocabulary.”
Under article 55 of the 1992 law establishing the HAAC, it can only close a media outlet when the outlet violates this law’s own provisions. But the decision published by the HAAC on 23 May cites provisions on press ethics, insult and respect for privacy in Benin’s information and communication law and press ethics law, neither of which says this kind of offence is punishable by closure.
When reached by RSF, HAAC president Adam Boni Tessi refused to make any comment about this decision.
“There are no legal grounds for the HAAC’s decision,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Closing a newspaper on the basis of laws that do not provide for this form of punishment is absurd and the punishment seems out of all proportion to the alleged offences. As long as the HAAC continues to arbitrarily close media outlets critical of the authorities, it will be seen as a government tool.”
The Benin Union of Media Professionals (UPMB) and the National Council of Print and Broadcast Media Owners (CNPA-Benin) have issued a joint statement “questioning the HAAC president’s real motives” and saying there are “no valid arguments justifying the closure of what is a space for freedom.”
The HAAC ordered the closure of four opposition broadcast media outlets in December 2016. Three of them are now back on the air but one, Sikka TV (owned by the president’s leading political rival, Sébastien Ajavon), is still unable to resume broadcasting despite a court ruling in May 2017 ordering its reopening. Tessi, who was already the HAAC’s president, was himself ordered to pay 76,000 euros in damages.
Benin fell six places in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 84 out of 180 countries.