Big improvement in media freedom seen since end of Tandja regime

Published on Thursday 30 June 2011.
Reporters Without Borders ended a five-day fact-finding visit to Niamey today with a news conference at the Niger Press Club to present its initial findings and conclusions, including the observation that the press freedom situation has improved considerably since President Mamadou Tandja’s ouster in February 2010. Around 100 journalists and media figures attended.
The Reporters Without Borders delegation, consisting of Ambroise Pierre, the head of the Africa desk, and board member Jean-Louis Saporito, met with the communication minister, the justice minister, Gen. Salou Djibo (who led the transitional government after Tandja’s removal) and several of Niger’s international partners. It met with the prime minister and is about to have an interview with leaders of the opposition MNSD party later today.
The delegation also met with representatives of the National Communication Monitoring Body (ONC), which regulates the media, ONIMED (the media self-regulatory body) and the Niger Press Club, and visited the Institute for Training in Information and Communication Techniques (IFTIC) as well as most of the Niamey-based media.
Despite a difficult economic environment, Reporters Without Borders found a considerable degree of diversity and plurality within both the print and broadcast media, which are all very outspoken.
Although the final period of Tandja’s 10-year rule was marked by many press freedom violations, including harassment and sometimes closure of media by the CSC (the then regulatory body) and frequent spells in prison for journalists, Reporters Without Borders is aware of very few incidents since Tandja’s ouster in a military coup on 18 February 2010.
Reporters Without Borders hails the desire to guarantee media freedom that has been demonstrated by both the transitional government and the new government that was elected at the start of this year.
The past year and a half has been marked by significant successes and achievements for media freedom. Reporters Without Borders found that both the state and privately-owned media conducted themselves in a very satisfactory manner during the elections. The achievements include the reopening of the Press Club, whose activities in support of journalists deserve praise, and the decriminalization of media offences, which protects journalists from prison sentences.
Many journalists and most media observers nonetheless acknowledge that there has unfortunately been a big increase in disparaging and defamatory articles since media offences were decriminalized in June 2010.
“Decriminalization does not mean the freedom to say or write anything or to smear individuals with impunity,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Decriminalization is an achievement that must be defended, but it must be accompanied by responsibility.” The press freedom organization hails the creation of ONIMED, a self-regulatory body that has been set up to investigate complaints against the media and tell journalists when they violate professional ethics.
At the end of next month, Reporters Without Borders will publish a detailed analysis of the media freedom situation in Niger and Guinea, which the organization visited last month. This report will include recommendations for the authorities and media in both countries.
In the meantime, as regards Niger, Reporters Without Borders:
* Urges senior government officials to continue their efforts and to confirm their commitment to the defence of media freedom. President Mahamadou Issoufou signed an undertaking to this effect as a candidate before the second round of the presidential election. He could now be the first person to do this as president.
* Invites the government to consider measures that could improve the economic environment for the media (including a possible increase in assistance funds or more state advertising in the privately-owned media).
* Hails the efforts of the regulatory and self-regulatory bodies (ONC and ONIMED) and supports them in their role of promoting press freedom and modernization of the media sector.
* Finally, urges journalists to act responsibly and to always remember that their job is to inform.