Gabon: Media coverage of presidential election likely to be heavily restricted

Regulation & Policy

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the array of restrictions that the Gabonese authorities have imposed on journalists during the presidential election. Communications minister Laure Olga Gondjout last week nonetheless tried to defuse tension and concerns by spelling out the rules for journalists on voting day.

The election is to choose a successor to President Omar Bongo Ondimba, who died in June after 41 years in power. “What with restricted media access to polling stations, harsh warnings, intimidation and refusal to issue some foreign media with accreditation, the government is using all available means to keep news and information under tight control,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should understand that such behaviour will just fuel concern that the elections will not be free and fair.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We take note of the communication minister’s promises and we hope that journalists are able to work freely and without impediment on Sunday. If they are not, it will cast a long shadow on what should be an historic election.”

Media not welcome in polling stations

In a communiqué drawn up at a cabinet meeting and in news conferences held by interior minister Jean-François Ndongou and National Communications Council chairman Emmanuel Ondo Methogo, the government announced yesterday that journalists would only be able to make “brief” visits to voting stations when public figures were casting their ballots, and would not be allowed to “stay there permanently.”

The authorities also announced that: “Only the state media will be allowed to officially communicate the results on the basis of data provided by the interior minister." The vote counting will be public but journalists will only be able to attend by staying outside the voting stations. Elections results will not be posted.

The Gabonese Media Observatory (OGAM), a self-regulatory entity formed by all the leading Gabonese media, condemned the government’s “iniquitous” decisions and accused the authorities of “flouting press freedom and gagging the people’s right to information.”Journalists Virginie Herz and Nicolas Germain of the French 24-hour news channel France 24, Gervais Nitcheu of the TV news agency AITV/RFO and Vincent Hugeux of the French weekly L’Express will not be able to cover the election because their requests for accreditation have been turned down.