Voicing "great concern" about the climate of tension in Togo in the final days before the 24 April presidential election, Reporters Without Borders today appealed to the news media and the authorities for calm and said the chief victim was the Togolese public, which is not getting the objective and unbiased reporting it needs.
The press freedom organization urged the authorities to use dialogue to settle disputes, and urged the privately-owned news media to respect the rules of fairness in their election coverage. It also called on the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), which regulates the media, to rescind its ban on the privately-owned media covering the elections and to reach an agreement with press and journalists’ organizations on a fair and professional way to work.
"We are particularly worried by the fact that political violence, whatever its source, has clearly infiltrated the press in Togo," Reporters Without Borders said. "We were already obliged to express our concern when the privately-owned press was turned into a political weapon. But it is absurd and counter-productive to ban the privately-owned media outright from covering the election campaign, at a time when antagonism is at its peak."
The organization continued: "In general, we advise the HAAC to respond on a case by case basis to avoid being unfair. And for the sake of a swift compromise that will allow a return to a situation where fairness prevails, we totally support the mediation efforts undertaken above all by the Union of Free Radio and TV Stations of Togo (URATEL), which the authorities and the HAAC should take seriously."
Reporters Without Borders added: "Regardless of who they support, those at the head of the privately-owned news media must ensure that their journalists do not become political campaigners or spokespersons. We stress that it is the Togolese public that is paying the price for this climate of tension because it is being deprived of balanced and objective reporting."
On 19 April, the HAAC banned privately-owned radio and TV stations from "providing media coverage of election campaigning by all candidates." It also demanded that the broadcast media "scrupulously" respect provisions regarding the organization of the election campaign, in particular, those banning "special broadcasts or debates by candidates or their representatives."
In the rules established by the HAAC at the start of the election campaign, the privately-owned media were banned from any coverage of the campaign except rallies held by candidates. Coverage of all other aspects of the campaign was restricted to the state-owned media, on the basis of fairness to the candidates taking part.
Dadja Pouwi, an adviser to communication minister Pitang Tchalla, complained to Reporters Without Borders on 15 April that, "some radio stations, in defiance of the law, are continuing to exacerbate the situation in the country by organizing live broadcasts in which listeners phone in using false names and indulge in insults and provocations."
Pouwi also criticised the "lack of balance" in the privately-owned media’s coverage and their bias in favour of the opposition. Some radio stations have broadcast virulent political editorials attacking the son of the late President Gnassingbé Eyadema, who is the candidate of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), and attacking France, which is believed to support the regime.