The tabloid press is enjoying a boom in Senegal. Several new tabloid titles appeared in 2002, offering nothing but news trivia and sex scandals, much of it made up. Press organisations, journalists’ associations and the authorities joined in denouncing these serious breaches of press ethics. But part of the readership seemed tired of political news, and the tabloids sold alarmingly well in competition with the traditional print media.
The dismissals of the head of the state-owned TV broadcaster and the presidential advisor on communications in August, without explanation, were seen in the local press as sign that President Wade wanted to maintain a degree of control over the state-owned news media.
Work conditions were still difficult in Casamance, the region south of Gambia that has been prey to a low-level separatist insurrection since the 1980s. Journalists there had to cope with threats from rebel movements and the vigilance of the authorities, who paid close attention to everything to do with the region. Wary of causing offence, for fear of reprisals, journalists in Casamance routinely practised self-censorship.
Two journalists physically attacked
Boubacar Tamba, a reporter with the privately-owned radio station Sud FM, was attacked on 5 January 2002 by persons claiming to belong to the Casamance Democratic Forces Movement (MFDC), an armed separatist group, near Silinkine, some 70 km. from Ziguinchor, Casamance’s main town. The previous day, he had received a message promising him information about the rebels and the situation in Casamance if he went to Silinkine, but it was not clear if the message and the attack were linked. A recent report by Tamba about a lynching of MFDC members by villagers had been a source of considerable controversy in the local population.
Libasse Ndiaye, cameraman with African Television News (ATN) and a correspondent for AITV, was attacked by a policeman on 14 December in Dakar as he was filming a march by the relatives of victims of the Le Joola ferry boat disaster. The policeman insulted him and then struck him several times in the face with his gun butt. Witnesses said this took place during scuffles between police and demonstrators but Ndiaye, with his camera, was clearly identifiable as a reporter. Ndiaye was taken to a hospital in the capital for treatment to an injured eye.
The correspondents of the privately-owned dailies Wal Fadjri and Sud Quotidien and journalists with Sud FM Ziguinchor and other radio stations received death threats on 18 September in Casamance. In its edition of that day, Sud Quotidien reported that one of its journalists, Cheikh Oumar Seydi, had been handed a message by a child which accused him of "criticising and castigating"the MFDC and threatened him with death.
Pressure and obstruction
Ousseynou Nar Gueye, editor of the newspaper Tract, and his photo-editor Cheikh Touré were sued by Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye at the end of January 2002 for publishing a photomontage of her in a bathing costume on the front page. They were accused of insulting a member of the government, and of publishing "false news with the aid of false or fabricated elements." Police had detained the two journalists and seized all copies of the newspaper when the montage was published on 1 August 2001. The journalists had been released the following day, but police kept the computer used to create the montage. The two journalists appeared before an investigating judge on 31 January 2002. The computer was finally returned on 15 February.
Stones were thrown at the premises of the privately-owned radio station Wal Fadjri FM in late February as it was broadcasting a debate about the 1993 assassination of the constitutional council vice-president. The station held the debate after President Wade pardoned those convicted of the murder, who were serving sentences of between 10 and 20 years. President Wave had himself been accused and then cleared of involvement in the killing.
The Dakar regional court on 23 April convicted Mamadou Oumar Ndiaye, publisher of the weekly Le Témoin, of libelling a school director and sentenced him to four months in prison and a fine of 2 million CFA francs (3,050 euros). Victor Cabrita, director of the Sainte-Marie de Hann Catholic school had sued over a September 2001 report accusing him of mismanagement and embezzlement. Ndiaye’s lawyers appealed and he was not imprisoned.
The Senegalese journalists’ trade union SYNPICS protested on 27 June against the threat by managers of the national soccer team to sue journalists who blamed Senegal’s elimination in the quarter-final of the 2002 World Cup on nightclubbing by the players. The union said the threats "incited hate against journalists."
Mactar Silla, director general of the state-run broadcaster RTS, and Chérif Elvalide Sèye, presidential advisor on communications, were dismissed by the president on 28 August. They were not given any explanation. The independent newspaper Wal Fadjri reported that their dismissal appeared to have been prompted by allegations in some news media of a food crisis in the provinces which was blamed on mistakes in the government’s liberalisation of the food sector.
The regulatory High Council of Broadcasting ordered the state-owned broadcaster RTS on 9 December to rebroadcast a speech given by President Wade at the opening of the Dakar international fair. The orders were issued after the president’s office complained to the council that the state-owned media were not doing their job and that the president was not being seen enough on TV.