Private broadcasters barred from election coverage

New York, April 20, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by a new Togolese government order that bars private radio and television stations from reporting on the presidential election campaign, which is now in its final days.

A directive issued Friday by Togo’s High Audiovisual and Communications Authority (known by its French acronym, HAAC) says private broadcasters may not “carry out any media coverage” of the candidates’ campaigns. The HAAC directive also states that “private radio and television stations are not authorized during the election campaign to organize special programs or on-air debates featuring candidates or their representatives.”

Voters go to the polls on Sunday.

Private radio stations in the capital, Lomé, appear to be obeying the order and are limiting their campaign coverage to government statements, CPJ sources said. Yesterday, four local media organizations issued a statement in protest, calling the HAAC’s decision unconstitutional.

“How can the Togolese government pretend to have a democratic election when the press is barred from doing its job?” asked Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “A free election isn’t held in the dark. This absurd directive should be scrapped immediately.”

The election follows the February 5 death of Gnassingbé Eyadema, who had ruled Togo for 38 years. The army initially moved to install one of his sons, Faure Gnassingbé, as president, but Gnassignbé stepped down after regional and international protests. Abass Bonfoh, the vice president of the National Assembly, was named interim head of state. Gnassingbé is currently running for president as head of the ruling Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT) party, along with several candidates from opposition parties.

On February 11, at least four private radio stations and one private television station were suspended at the request of the HAAC, after they aired critical debates and interviews on the political situation following Gnassingbé Eyadema’s death. The stations were later allowed to resume broadcasting.

On March 30, the HAAC warned private radio station Nana FM to stop airing biweekly editorial commentary by veteran journalist and media activist Daniel Lawson-Drackey, the journalist told CPJ.