A free and independent press in Gabon is still a work in progress, in part because of overzealous sanctions imposed by the media regulator – sanctions that, nonetheless, decreased in 2021.
Many media outlets were created when a multiparty system was restored in 1990. There are now more than 60 print media outlets, of which L'Union, the only national daily, is the most emblematic. Echos du Nord, La Loupe, L'Aube and Le Temps are the most widely read, privately owned weeklies. The online press is growing, and the most visited sites are Gabonreview, Gabon Media Time and Gabonactu. State TV channels such as Gabon Première and Gabon 24 are still very influential despite competition from several privately owned channels.
The tradition of a free and independent press has yet to take hold, including online. The government’s influence is felt at all levels and contributes to self-censorship. Broadcasting is dominated by state media, while allies of the president have created many of the online media and use them to attack those who do not toe the government line. The High Authority for Communication (HAC), the media regulator, lacks independence, with seven of its nine members appointed by the authorities.
Freedom of expression is enshrined in Gabon’s constitution, and the 2016 communication law abolished prison sentences for press offences. The police nonetheless still summon journalists for questioning under the penal code. Article 55 of the organic law governing the HAC is misapplied in order to allow its president to sanction a media outlet without first calling a meeting of all nine HAC members.
State aid has been distributed more equitably to the print media since 2020, but journalists still face serious financial difficulties. The raw material crisis in 2014 and the pandemic in 2020 ended up bankrupting many media outlets. The advertising market has also shrunk, and advertisers are now abandoning the more outspoken print media, radio stations and TV channels.
Gabonese journalists are still subjected to intimidation attempts, especially through summonses by the security services. Arbitrary arrests are rare, with the notable exception of Bertin Ngoua Edou, a newspaper editor who was detained for four days in 2020 after an article about an alleged corruption case. But arbitrary media suspensions by the HAC have increased in recent years, earning it the nickname of “The Axe.” Its victims have included 7jours infos, an online newspaper suspended for one month in January 2022 for an article questioning the president's ability to manage the country. Independent journalists are barred from official events and have difficulty gaining access to sources.