Police brutality against four journalists in April 2003 set off an outcry in the national news media. Aside from this isolated case, press freedom was in very good shape in Benin.
Benin is one of the African countries that respect press freedom the most. And with 15 daily newspapers, three TV channels (two of them privately-owned) and many radio stations, it also enjoys considerable diversity in its news media. Surrounded by countries with regimes that are hostile towards their press, Benin’s journalists are aware of their good fortune.
The main drawback is the frequent excesses and violations of professional ethics to which Benin’s media are prone. Some newspapers regularly publish reports without any verification of the facts. A self-regulatory body, the Centre for Monitoring Media Ethics (ODEM), tries to make the press aware of these problems.
There are also too many newspapers, or at least not enough readers and advertisers to sustain them all over the long term. Only three or four newspapers that have already existed for some years are likely to avoid going under.
Four journalists physically attacked
Etienne Houessou, the managing editor of the daily Le Télégramme, and three of his staff were beaten or roughed up by police officers in Cotonou on 1 April 2003 for publishing unattributed statements that allegedly insulted national police director-general Raymond Fadonougbo and superintendent Francis Awagbè Béhanzin. The police spokesman had previously summoned Houessou at the start of February to give him a warning about his alleged violation of Benin’s code of press ethics.
The Union of Beninese Press Journalists (UJPB) declared 7 April "a day without press" to protest against the police brutality, with the result that only the governmental daily La Nation came out. When reporters, newspaper editors and radio and TV presenters staged a peaceful march on 10 April to show solidarity with Le Télégramme and condemn the police violence, they were received by the communication and interior ministers. The UJPB finally issued a statement calling on the police "to prevent any abuse likely to jeopardise the country’s dearly acquired press freedom" and calling on Le Télégramme "to show restraint in the publishing of reports and documents of doubtful origin and to refrain from relaying unsourced insults and other defamatory remarks."