Benin, Jan 23 – Lawmakers in Benin have approved a new law for the media in a first for the tiny West African nation after recent concern about freedom of expression.
The new law approved in parliament on Thursday removes custodial sentences for offences deemed offensive against the head of state, and regulates access to news sources.
“It’s the crowning achievement of more than 10 years’ battle,” said Franck Kpotcheme, president of the Benin media professionals union (UPMB), calling the decision “clear-sighted”.
Benin was ranked 75th out of 180 countries worldwide in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders index and 16th among African countries.
But the freedom of information advocacy group has highlighted a number of cases in which journalists have been targeted for doing their job.
Last year, the publisher of L’Independant newspaper was given a three-year suspended prison sentence for allegedly “insulting” President Thomas Boni Yayi.
The publication was also suspended for six months and one reporter jailed for two months.
Boni Yayi was in Paris earlier this month to support freedom of expression after the Islamist militant killings of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
But after his return a journalist from Benin public television, Ozias Sounouvou, was censured by his bosses for appealing to the president live on air for “free speech on the public channel”.
The general-secretary of the Benin Observatory of Media Ethics, Wilfried Leandre Houngbedji, called the new law “a real step forward”.
“This code compels all holders of information to make it available to the public, which hasn’t been the case up until now,” he told AFP.
“This law obliges media owners to respect the collective convention, which will improve considerably the conditions for Benin journalists.”
The head of the Benin media owners group, Gerard Agognon, said the country had taken “an important step towards the promotion of the rights of freedom of expression”.