Benin’s media regulator, Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel et de la communication (HAAC), has suspended the operations of the pan-African press group, La Gazette du Golfe, along with all of its media outlets (both digital and analogue), including flagships, Golfe TV and Golfe Radio.
According to the HAAC, the suspension which took effect on August 8, 2023, is “until further notice.”
The suspension followed accusations that the media organization had justified the coup in neighboring Niger. According to the media regulator, the media group’s coverage of the situation in Niger amounted to condoning the July 26, 2023 coup d’état in that country, and a violation of its own (HAAC) law, the Code of Information and Communication as well as the Code of Ethics of journalism.
Prior to the suspension, the HAAC had released a press statement dated August 3, 2023, in which it had invited media professionals to “demonstrate greater professionalism and scrupulous respect for constitutional and legal provisions in processing information relating to glorification of coups d’état in Africa and the sub-region”.
Regulator’s decision violates press freedom
The suspension of La Gazette du Golfe has stirred outrage in the country. The media group and its legal experts have appealed the decision at the Constitutional Court stating that the HAAC’s decision violates the Benin Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 10 December 1948 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The media group and its counsels, Angelo L. Adelakoun, Fréjus Atindoglo, Romaric Zinsou, Conaïde Akouedenoudje and Miguel Houeto stated that, upon reading the provisions of the various instruments, “one might ask how a media outlet’s analyses and reports can be said to condone coups d’état”.
The press union, l’Union des professionnels des médias du Bénin (UPMB), has expressed concern at the HAAC’s decision.
“Let’s not forget that the mission of the media is to inform the public, to analyze, stimulate public debate, to educate and to entertain. For this reason, a topical issue as important as the situation in Niger cannot be ignored by the media, especially a high-profile medium such as Golfe Télévision,” said Zakiath Latoundji, President of the UPMB.
The Observatoire de Déontologie et de l’Ethique dans les Médias (ODEM) rejected the decision, calling it a “precautionary measure that seems disproportionate to the offence committed”.
“It violates the preamble and articles 07 and 142 of the Beninese constitution, which reiterate Benin’s commitment to democratic values, the public’s right to information and the protection of the press that the HAAC itself should guarantee. By shutting down a media house, it is clear that the citizen’s right to information is being violated, and Benin’s democracy is weakened,” said ODEM in a press release dated August 13, 2023.
The coup in Niger the sixth in West Africa in a little over three years. Guinea experienced a military takeover in 2021, with Mali (2020, 2021) and Burkina Faso (2021, 2022) leading with two military interventions each. The regional group, ECOWAS, has voted to send troops to Niger to restore the deposed civilian regime, a decision that has split public opinion in West Africa, including governments of the member states. Benin voted in support of the plans to invade Niger and pledged to contribute troops towards the effort.
For interviewing an activist seen to favour the forcible restoration of the deposed civilian president of Niger, the Ouagadougou-based Radio Oméga was, on August 10, 2023, shut down indefinitely by the Burkinabe authorities, who support the junta in Niger.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the suspension of the press group La Gazette du Golfe, and urges the HAAC to reverse its decision. While we condemn the wave of coups d’état in the region including the latest one in Niger, we do not endorse any measure aimed at gagging the media and civil society from expressing their opinions about the phenomenon. The MFWA has observed that some governments have taken entrenched positions and are proving too sensitive to commentary that contradict their position on the coup in Niger and its aftermath. We therefore wish to remind the HAAC about is their duty and their mission under Article 142 of the Benin Constitution to protect the media from unwarranted interference. Consequently, we invite the HAAC to rescind this highly questionable decision.