Online news media in Benin have been subjected to a vague federal decree since the beginning of July that demands all “online media must suspend all publication under penalty of being subjected to the force of law.” The media release was published by the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), one of seven ostensibly independent institutions formed under the 1990 constitution.
During a media conference, a spokesperson for HAAC claimed to have noted “an all-out creation of online media without prior authorization,” but there was no more clarity on the scope of the new ban.
Since President Patrice Talon was elected in 2016, the Media Foundation for West Africa has recorded fourteen violations of press freedoms and freedom of expression. Several of these instances involved HAAC suspending outlets, sometimes for an indefinite period, as punishment for publishing material deemed to be an attack on the president or for publishing “false information” in the form of articles commenting on the declining state of the economy.
“Beninese media are now paying for bureaucratic sluggishness”
In an effort to avoid running afoul of the law, some Beninese news sites, such as Banouto, have complied with the HAAC’s decree and are thus now stuck in limbo as they await the HAAC’s next step. In the process, they are missing out on potential stories and reneging on commitments.
Communications expert Léon Anjorin Koboubé told Agence France-Presse that online Beninese media are now “paying for bureaucratic sluggishness” and that this latest ban is “a way to kill local initiatives.”
Press freedom organizations in Benin argue that the HAAC is simply carrying out a continual pattern of press intimidation, based on a law passed in 2018 that criminalized online misdemeanors, including the spreading of “false information.” It is one of the reasons Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin at 113 on its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, down from 96 the year before.