Media council orders independent newspaper suspended

New York, August 10, 2005—Gabon’s media regulatory council has indefinitely suspended the independent bimonthly newspaper Nku’u Le Messager over an editorial it says insulted the council, according to local news reports and the publication director. In a statement issued Tuesday, the council said the suspension would be lifted only if the newspaper changed its editorial team.

The decision follows an August 8 editorial by publication director Norbert Ngoua Mezui, criticizing the council’s composition and saying that members were overpaid and lazy. The editorial called council members “bad film actors,” “uninspired sports writers,” and “a few journalists of generally little talent.” Council President Pierre Marie Dong is a filmmaker, according to the PANA news agency.

Mezui said the editorial came in response to a July 28 statement by the council, a nine-member, government-controlled body known by its French acronym CNC. He said the CNC statement “arbitrarily classified the Gabonese newspapers into two categories, partisan ones and non-partisan ones.” Nku’u Le Messager was wrongly put in the partisan category, Mezui said.

The CNC justified its decision against Nku’u Le Messager by saying that certain journalists had become “mercenaries of the pen,” “racketeers” and “gossips,” according to PANA. The newspaper was considering its response today.

“The CNC’s blatant censorship of this independent newspaper is outrageous,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on Gabon’s authorities to ensure that this arbitrary decision is immediately overturned and that newspapers in Gabon are able to report news and opinions without fear of reprisal.”

Since 2003, the CNC has issued eight suspensions against newspapers that were critical of authorities, according to CPJ research. Some remain closed.