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Benin - World Report 2009

70 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 112,620 sq. km.
-  Population: 8,791,832
-  Language: French
-  Head of state: Boni Yayi, since 2006

Benin is one of French-speaking Africa’s better examples in terms of press freedom, with journalists working in relatively good conditions. However work remains to be done on media content.

The country has traditionally been seen as good performer in West Africa, a pioneer of multi-parties and a model of modern democracy in the region. But Benin has also seen things go awry. Before and during the 2006 presidential election campaign that led to technocrat Boni Yayi succeeding Mathieu Kérékou as head of state, irregular publications flourished in Cotonou, run by ad hoc journalists and serving the interests of politicians or other influential figures. They continued to appear after the election was over and took orders from other generous patrons. This pushed the government into a “clean up”, using the law, which had not really been applied since 2004 and which provides for prison sentences for breaches of press law. As a result, several editors were arrested by judicial police in September and questioned by the chief prosecutor for publishing articles containing false information. More seriously still, the publisher and editor of the daily L’Informateur were sentenced at the end of 2006 to six months in prison and fined 500,000 CFA francs (752 euros) for “defamation”.

Reporters Without Borders has informed the Benin government of its concern, as it would for any country with draconian legislation, pointing out that these prison sentences were not a fair or appropriate response to journalistic error. On the contrary, they harm democracy, by breaking the de facto rule banning all imprisonment of journalists and undermining media regulatory bodies.

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