No newspaper managed to publish more than about six issues during the year, due to a lack of resources. There is no printing press in the country and newspapers are published in the form of photocopies. Paper, imported from Cameroon, is very expensive. To make things worse, the authorities do not encourage the development of the private sector press in any way. The government prefers to buy expensive advertising space to praise the country in European newspapers. In April 2001 the independent journalist Pedro Nolasco Ndong filed an application to start the first privately-owned daily La Liberación. On 19 November the information minister refused, arguing that the title of the newspaper was "an allusion to communist movements" and "counter to democratic principles". A few days later the journalist filed a new application with the name El Liberal.
Official news is totally inaccessible to the private press. Very few civil servants or state officials agree to give interviews to private sector publications. Independent journalists are seen as opponents.
Self-censorship is the rule in the government press, to such an extent that a local journalist commented: "a comma in the wrong place can cause a journalist of the official press to have his salary suspended". Public sector radio and television is at the exclusive service of the government and ruling party. The opposition very rarely has access to it. In March state television criticised a Swiss historian following the publication of a book denouncing the country’s "camouflaged dictatorship". The channel also denounced the Spanish station Radio Exterior which had devoted a whole programme to human rights violations in the country, reported by the same historian.
During the United Nations human rights commission meeting in April in Geneva, the special rapporteur on the situation in Equatorial Guinea, Gustavo Gallon, noted that the country "still does not have the rule of law". In a resolution, the commission urged the country to improve its human rights record and decided to keep the issue on its agenda. In May the pro-government Ebano criticised a report presented to the commission, considering that it was "totally uninformed on the real human rights situation".
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, of military training, is not used to being contradicted. He is on Reporters Without Borders’ list of predators of press freedom in the world.
Pressure and obstruction
On 21 February 2001 the mayor of Malabo, Gabriel Mba Bela, ordered the closure of ASOPGE, the Equatorial Guinean press association, without any explanation. Municipal police went to the association’s head office, expelled two voluntary workers and closed the offices. The association reopened on 24 February after the information minister had intervened.
Pedro Nolasco Ndong, president of ASOPGE and Reporters Without Borders correspondent, was blocked at the Malabo airport on 13 May, on his return from a Unesco organised seminar in Windhoek, Namibia, on the occasion of the 11th Press Freedom Day. The police confiscated a report on press freedom in Equatorial Guinea since 1991 as well as all the documents distributed at the seminar. They also extorted 100 US dollars (114 euros) from him, without any explanation.
The privately-owned radio station Asonga, owned by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s eldest son, was closed on 11 June on orders from the general director of the criminal investigation department, Antonio Mba Nguema, the president’s brother. The police arrested some of the employees and confiscated a recording of the Association of Obiang Sons, a political organisation affiliated to the ruling Democartic Party. On the tape, broadcast on 10 June, members of the association denounced the manoeuvres of certain conservatives to counter their "innovative" ideas. Asonga’s broadcasts were resumed a few weeks later, following reconciliation between the president and his son.
On 25 June the information minister accused six journalists working for state-owned radio and television of having "manipulated pictures broadcast" and ordered their suspension. He also accused them of stealing a video-cassette recorder.
On 30 June soldiers prevented the managing editor of El Tiempo, Daniel Dario Martínez, from going onto the premises of the transport and telecommunications ministry. They confiscated his identity card and threatened to kill him while accusing him of "saying bad things about the government and being an activist in an opposition party".
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders