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Press freedom group advises Gabon to draft new media law

Reporters Without Borders wrote to the Gabonese government on 2 May with its recommendations for the government's planned reform of the 2001 broadcasting, cinematographic and print media law.

The recommendations were prepared after the government told Reporters Without Borders it wanted to modernize its media legislation and submitted a draft of the new law to Reporters Without Borders and its legal department for their comments.

The initiative was also the result of a Reporters Without Borders visit to Libreville from 6 to 9 February.

In its 11 pages of recommendations, Reporters Without Borders points out that the law in effect in Gabon since 2001 does not meet the applicable standards governing freedom of expression and media freedom, and furthermore makes no provision for online media, social networks and blogs.

Rather than amending the 2001 law, Reporters Without Borders has recommended repealing it and drafting a completely new law.

“As drafted, the proposed new law does not in any way change the spirit of the 2001 law, which is clearly unsuited to Gabon's new media landscape, to the new democratic practices desired by the Gabonese public and media, and to international democratic standards,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Gabon needs to draft a new law from the bottom up, one that is written with a new approach and sets an example of respect for freedom of expression and the rights of journalists, while at the same time protecting the rights of the country's citizens.”

Reporters Without Borders emphasizes the importance of decriminalizing media offences, in other words, abolishing prison sentences for journalists convicted of defamation or insult.

Mischievous comments

After Reporters Without Borders visited Libreville, an article was posted on a Libreville website with the headline “Reporters Without Borders is going to work for the Gabonese president's office.”

Reporters Without Borders would like to stress that it is not “working for” the Gabonese president's office. It has provided the Gabonese government with recommendations on media legislation, as it has done in a dozen other countries in the past, and receives absolutely no form of remuneration for this work.

Similarly, some malicious commentators tried to foster suspicions about the funding for the Reporters Without Borders visit to Gabon on President Ali Bongo's “invitation.”

Reporters Without Borders responded positively to an invitation to go to Libreville and talk with government officials. All costs connected with the flight and stay were paid for by Reporters Without Borders. The visit did not cost the Gabonese government anything.

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