CPJ condemns suspension of six newspapers in Gabon

New York, November 12, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the suspension of six private newspapers by the government-controlled media-monitoring body, the National Communications Council, in Gabon. The council announced the suspensions, which range from one to three months, on Tuesday evening on state-run TV. The papers have been suspended for “violating the ethics of journalism” and “inciting ethnic divisions” according to local reports.

“This unprecedented suspension of the private press is intended to silence any potential critics of the election process,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “The council should immediately lift all of the suspensions.”

Early in September, Ali Bongo was elected president of the oil-rich country in an election to replace his father Omar Bongo, who had died in June after ruling the country for 41 years. All the suspended publications had written articles critical of what may have been a flawed election process, local journalists told CPJ.

The papers received immediate suspension sentences. Nku’u Le Messager and Le Crocodile were suspended for one month, Le Scriboullard, L’Ombre, and La Nation for two months and Echos du Nord received a three-month suspension. Two other private publications, Le Temps and Gabon d’Abord received a warning to “maintain professional standards,” according to local journalists.

According to Norbert Ngoua, the president of the Gabonese private press association, APPEL, and director of the twice-weekly newspaper Nku’u Le Messager, the council did not provide any details about the newspapers’ specific press violations. The journalists are not legally allowed to appeal the suspensions, Ngoua said. 

In addition, the council suspended indefinitely a popular call-in chat show called “Entre Nous” on the private TV station Canal Espoir for “numerous deficiencies in moderating the program,” a statement said. According to local journalists, the council was unhappy with the way the moderator allowed the public to be openly critical of individuals on the air.