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Gabon23 May 2003

National Communications Council suspends two private newspapers

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the recent measures taken by the National Communications Council (Conseil national de la Communication, CNC) against four private media outlets. During the week of 16 May 2003, the CNC decided to suspend the publication of two private newspapers, "Misamu" and Le Temps. In addition, the publications "Jeunesse Action" and "l’Espoir" received official warnings from the council.

"These measures, which appear to be part of an intimidation campaign against the private press, are a means of preventing citizens from having access to unbiased news and information about the government’s various plans," Reporters Without Borders’ Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a letter to CNC President Pierre Marie Ndong. The organisation urged him to reverse the measures and to allow the targeted media outlets to continue publishing.

In a 12 May press release, the CNC ordered the twice-monthly Misamu to cease publishing, on account of a legal dispute over ownership of the newspaper. The legal battle pits Senator Jean-Pierre Nzoghe Nguema, former leader of the opposition party Morena and the paper’s founder, against Noél Ngwa Nguema, the paper’s current publisher, who is also a priest.

According to information collected by Reporters Without Borders, Misamu plans to continue publishing for the moment, as it has not received an official suspension notice. The CNC’s decision follows revelations in the press about the mysterious death of Pascaline Bongo’s aide-de-camp. Pascaline Bongo is President Omar Bongo’s eldest daughter and principal private secretary. Misamu had accused Finance Ministry Secretary-General Eyamba Tsima Maurice Nestor of being behind the aide-de-camp’s death.

On 15 May, the CNC suspended the weekly Le Temps for three months. The newspaper was targeted because of a 14 May article, entitled "Over 50 billion CFA Francs [over US$89 million; 76 million euros] squandered in two nights", in which questions were raised about financing for an organisation that is coordinating independence celebrations in August. The contentious article was "likely to undermine the nation’s standing," the CNC said.

In addition, two other newspapers received official warnings from the council. The first paper, Jeunesse Action, was warned after it published photographs of mutilated persons and children being raped in its 12 to 19 May issue. The CNC said the images were likely to "offend readers’ sensibilities." As for l’Espoir, it was warned because it did not fill out the paperwork necessary for the launch of a publication, as required under under Gabon’s Communications Code.

Reporters Without Borders recalls that Communications Minister Medhi Teale recently granted 500 million CFA Francs (approx. US$890,000; 762,000 euros) to the private press as part of the National Press Development Fund (Fonds national pour le développement de la presse).

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