The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its national partner organisations in the West Africa region, have petitioned President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire to use his good office to ensure that sections of the country’s new press bill that seek to criminalise press offences are annulled.
In the petition addressed to President Alassane Ouattara on May 22, 2017, the MFWA and its national partner organisations in the sub-region expressed deep concern about sections of Article 90 of the new bill which seeks to impose a prison term of one to five years and/or a fine of 300,000 to 3,000,000 Francs CFA (US$ 511 to US$4,988) for press offences.
The petitioners highlighted possible ramifications of sections of Article 90 and therefore called on the President to intervene.
“Article 90 would be liable to a broad range of subjective interpretations, and could be exploited by powerful people and politicians to harass, threaten and intimidate journalists and media organisations, thus compelling them to impose auto-censorship, and undermining their ability to freely carry out their mandate as the fourth estate,” read the petition.
The petitioners also urged President Alassane Ouattara “to ensure that article 90 of the new press bill is withdrawn to avoid a situation where the Ivorian media will be practicing in fear.”
The press bill was introduced in the Ivorian Parliament on May 5, 2017 and is being considered for passage on May 31, 2017.
The MFWA appeals to the government of Côte d’Ivoire to ensure that sections of the New Press bill that seek to stifle freedom of expression rights of journalists and the citizenry at large are deleted from the pending Bill.
Kindly read the full petition below:
May 22, 2017
Petition for the Withdrawal of Article 90 of the New Press Bill
We, the Media Foundation for West Africa, together with the undersigned freedom of expression organisations, wish to express our deep concern about the new press bill presented to the Ivorian Parliament on May 5, 2017 to be considered for passage on May 31, 2017.
Sir, we are particularly concerned about Article 90 of the Press Bill which impose a prison term of one to five years and a fine of 300 000 to 3 000 000 francs CFA for “anyone who by means of press or by others means of publication: incite to theft and vandalism, murder, to set fire to and destroy, by which ever means, public or private propriety; to any forms of violence against individuals and institutions or on their properties, or justifies the same crimes or offences; who incites to xenophobia, hateful speech, racial hatred and all forms of hate speech; glorifies war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide crimes or collaboration with the enemy, incites military and security forces to insubordination and rebellion, acts against the national territorial integrity, internal and external security of the state»
Indeed, the above-cited provision of the Press Bill, which seeks to criminalise press offenses, is only a replication of Articles 174 and 175 of the Ivoirian Criminal Code which adequately cover these offenses.
We recognise that journalists are not above the law and so the provisions of Articles 174 and 175 of the Criminal Code apply to them as well.
Consequently, the introduction of new laws specifically targeting the press is disturbing, as it suggests a new resolve by the authorities to bare their teeth at the media. Moreover, the new bill seeks to replace the existing press law of 2004, which makes it clear that press offences shall not be liable to prison sentences. This clearly is a huge step backwards for press freedom in Cote d’Ivoire.
Another issue of concern is that the controversial Article 90 would be liable to a broad range of subjective interpretations, and could be exploited by powerful people and politicians to harass, threaten and intimidate journalists and media organisations, thus compelling them to impose auto-censorship, and undermining their ability to freely carry out their mandate as the fourth estate.
In view of the above, we urge your Excellency to intervene to ensure that article 90 of the new press bill is withdrawn to avoid a situation where the Ivorian media will be practicing in fear.
The recent political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire put the media in under severe strains from which it is gradually emerging.
We would therefore urge the government to rather engage the leadership of the media in Cote d’Ivoire on how the two sides can work together to address the myriad challenges confronting the press in the country.
As freedom of expression organisations, we will continue to do our part in promoting professionalism and compliance with the ethics of the profession by all media houses and media professionals. In return, we humbly request from your government the necessary goodwill, respect and protection for media freedom.
In view of the above observations, we, undersigned organisations believe that you would appreciate the need to cause the withdrawal of the controversial article.
Your Excellency, we believe that you are sincerely committed to promoting fundamental freedoms and the enjoyment of civil, political and press freedom in Cote d’Ivoire. We therefore trust that you would appreciate the urgent need to withdraw Article 90.
While awaiting a favourable response to this petition, please accept, Mr. President, our deepest respect.
International Press Centre (IPC) – Nigeria
L’Observatoire de la Déontologie et de l’Ethique dans les Médias (ODEM)-Benin
Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG-SL)-Sierra Leone
Centre National de Presse – Norbert Zongo (CNP-NZ) – Burkina Faso
Observatoire Nigérien Indépendant des Médias pour l’Ethique et la Déontologie(ONIMED) – Niger
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) – Ghana
Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse, de l’Ethique et de la Déontologie (OLPED) – Cote d’Ivoire
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) – Gambie
Réseau Guinéen des Journalistes contre la Corruption et pour la Promotion de la Bonne Gouvernance (REGUIJOC)-Guinée