Reacting to Gabonese army’s post-coup statements, RSF issues ten recommendations for respecting press freedom
Brice Oligui Nguema, the army general who took power in Gabon in a coup a week ago, has said he intends to help the media to do its job. In the wake of his installation as interim president, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is publishing ten recommendations on how to effectively respect press freedom in Gabon.
Three days after the coup that ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba on 30 August (the day his reelection was announced), Gen. Oligui received representatives of state, privately-owned and international media at the presidential palace and told them he wanted to help “the press to do its job” by providing better access to official sources, by helping the state media, and by giving them some of the vehicles recovered from former military officers for use in their work.
What was said at this meeting sent a signal to the media that needs to be acted on. RSF remains vigilant with regard to the new government’s announcements since the coup, and is issuing ten recommendations for respecting press freedom in Gabon, which is essential at this pivotal moment in the country’s history.
No foreign media covered the presidential election on 26 August because the then government had banned them from entering Gabon. During the three weeks before the election, the authorities granted none of the requests for accreditation that were submitted by foreign journalists.
Internet access was suspended throughout the country on election day and local broadcasting by three French international news media, France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde, was interrupted. The High Authority for Communication (HAC), Gabon’s media regulator, issued a statement accusing these French news media of a “lack of objectivity and balance in their coverage of the news in relation to the general elections currently under way.”
The new military government restored Internet access and broadcasting by these three media outlets on 30 August, after announcing the cancellation of the elections on national TV, along with the dissolution of “all of the Republic’s institutions” and the “end of the regime.”
To respect press freedom, RSF recommends that Gabon’s de facto government should undertake to:
- Guarantee access to official sources in the new government for all journalists in Gabon, especially independent journalists;
- Make the accreditation process for foreign media journalists transparent, accessible and inclusive by reporting the number of accreditations issued and by providing objective explanations of those that were refused;
- Allow journalists whose accreditation requests were refused to re-apply;
- Systematically and publicly condemn all attacks against journalists and ensure that criminal investigations are carried out in order to identify and prosecute those responsible;
- Put a stop to the intimidation of journalists, especially by means of interrogation by the security services;
And that in the medium term, they should address:
- The need to bring journalists back into the process of naming the members of Gabon’s media regulator, the High Authority for Communication (HAC), in which only Gabon’s president and the heads of the senate and national assembly currently have any say;
- The need for the HAC’s decisions to be taken collectively, in order to avoid use of the arbitrary power currently granted to its president to sanction a media outlet without first meeting with all of the HAC’s members;
- The need to make the judicial authorities and police aware of the communication law’s provisions, so that its abolition of prison sentences for press offences is respected, and so that journalists are no longer abusively subjected to interrogations at police stations;
- The need to increase transparent and impartial financial support for state and privately-owned media companies.