Freedom of the Press 2007

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but several types of expression are considered to be criminal offenses, including incitement to ethnic hatred and violence. Following legal reforms in 2001, many press offenses are punishable by fines rather than imprisonment, including libel and publishing “false news.” Nonetheless, these fines are often excessive and quickly handed down to publications critical of the government. Local stringers for international media outlets, as well as those employed by the state-run media, have in the past had their accreditation revoked if their reporting was perceived to portray the government in a bad light. In April, authorities detained the director of a private newspaper, Thalassa, overnight and charged him with defamation, insulting the president, and publishing false news, after the paper published a report accusing the president of poisoning a retired general. A judge later imposed a six-month ban on Thalassa. Also in April, two prominent local anticorruption campaigners were arrested and detained for three weeks after they contributed to a Global Witness report criticizing the government’s misuse of oil revenues. In a subsequent trial condemned by the World Bank and others, the two were given suspended prison sentences and fines of US$600 each. In 2006, over 15 private weekly newspapers published in the capital, Brazzaville, and provided some scrutiny of the government, though few were readily available in rural areas. Officially, the state does not publish its own newspapers, but a number of publications are believed to be allied with the regime of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Radio remains the best means of reaching large audiences nationwide. The government has been slow to loosen its grip on the broadcast sector and continues to run three radio stations and one television station. Political parties are not permitted to own radio stations or television channels; and although several private radio and television stations have won permission to broadcast in recent years, they rarely criticize the government. In 2006, little more than 1 percent of the population was able to access the internet, amounting to 50,000 people, few of whom resided outside of urban areas; the government is not known to restrict online traffic or content.