Newspaper suspended over report on president’s wealth

Newspaper suspended over report on president’s wealth

New York, March 12, 2008—Gabonese authorities banned on Tuesday a private newspaper for republishing a report on President Omar Bongo’s private wealth in France, according to local news reports. The original story appeared in the French daily Le Monde at the end of January.

Gabon’s state-run National Communications Council accused Tendance Gabon,a private semimonthly, of spreading “a campaign of denigration” against Bongo after questioning Director Edwige Anyouzoa during a nine-hour hearing, according to local journalists. Anyouzoa told CPJ she was summoned to the council shortly after Monday’s edition hit the newsstands with Le Monde’s story, which she headlined “Omar Bongo busted by French investigators.” The decision to ban the paper for three months was final and could not be appealed under Gabon’s laws, legal expert Francis Nkéa told CPJ.

“Suspending a newspaper for a report critical of President Omar Bongo has become the norm in Gabon,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. We call on the government to abandon such heavy-handed tactics to silence critical journalism. We urge the council to lift the suspension against Tendance Gabon immediately.”

Le Monde’s January 31 story reported on French investigations into the private luxury Parisian residences acquired by five leaders of oil-rich African nations, including Bongo. The report triggered a public row between Gabon and former colonial power France, according to international news reports. The council also accused Tendance Gabon of “plagiarism” by reprinting the report, which ran with the name of the original author on it, according to local journalists.

According to Anyouzoa, the ruling was also linked to a critical editorial in Monday’s edition that raised questions about disparities in the council’s treatment of media affairs, according to CPJ research. Critical coverage of Bongo or his family usually triggers a suspension or a ban from the council, local journalists explained, but scrutiny of top officials and close aides of the president are rarely reprimanded.

This week’s ruling was the 23rd suspension of a news outlet by the council since 1998, according to CPJ research.

Gabon’s independent media remains weakened by a combination of censorship, political and financial pressures, and internal divisions, CPJ research has found. Government subsidies of the press and the infusion of money from wealthy politicians lead to self-censorship in many publications.