- Independent media in Togo still operate in one of Africa's most difficult press environments and no positive changes have been noted under the new political leadership. Aziadouvo Komi, editor-in-chief of 'Liberté Hebdo', says that "at various publications, people that feel they are being monitored. Journalists often receive threatening phone calls. This is common for all journalists."
The African Press Network for the 21st Century (RAP 21) interviewed Mr Komi in Togo's capital Lomé and found that the post-elections media scene in the country "remains treacherous." The weekly independent 'Liberté Hebdo' has noted no progress since Faure Gnassingbé took power in Togo earlier this year, following the death of his father, Dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma.
- There is nothing to hope with the new government, Mr Komi told RAP 21. "The same people are in charge of ruling the country today as the ones who surrounded the President's father. They continue to undermine the growth of the Togolese media. The President has not adopted a reassuring position towards the media. To prove my point, 'Radio France Internationale' is still not able to broadcast on FM radio," the Togolese editor explained.
In fact, the situation only got worse after Mr Gnassingbé's coup, which caused political instability and violence in Togo. During the recent rigged elections, the independent media again was targeted by the military-imposed government.
- The situation is the same during every election in Togo, the experienced editor told RAP 21. "Everything is done to ensure the press does not reveal the truth. But we do our best to continue to inform and provide a voice to the Togolese people," he explained.
According to Mr Komi, it was mainly television and radio journalists that were hindered from doing their job due to the communication blackout during the elections three months ago. "We were the object of many threats, however, and my newspaper staff was consequently forced to go into temporary hiding," Mr Komi said.
Three months after the elections, the situation is exactly how it was before Mr Gnassingbé's military coup. Conditions are easier than during the elections, but journalists are routinely threatened and editors are intimidated.
The only progress in the media situation indeed had come during the last years of President Eyadéma's dictatorship. In April 2004, President Eyadéma pledged 22 democratisation reforms - including press laws - in a bid to have the EU lift its sanctions against Togo and to receive EU funding. In keeping with the pledge, in August 2004, the Togolese parliament passed amendments to its harsh press code, removing criminal penalties for most press offences.
Due to these changes under ex-President Eyadéma, Mr Komi told RAP 21 that the situation for the Togolese press now "is better than five years ago." He however has not observed any intentions to promote additional media reforms by the current leader. "We remain very concerned," Mr Komi said.
In addition to the intimidation by the government, the situation for free media in Togo is made difficult by the large support to state-controlled media. "If you are on the ground in Togo, you notice straightaway that there are two types of newspapers. There are, on one hand, the publications that are close to the state, which are financed by the government. On the other hand, there are opposition publications that are often launched by private individuals," Mr Komi explains.
Though the newspaper market is very limited in Togo, the editor of 'Liberté Hebdo' holds that the independent media sell well, compared to the state-funded media. "I would currently classify ourselves as an opposition newspaper. We are in competition with about fifteen newspapers, but in total, there are about thirty that are published irregularly," Mr Komi told RAP 21. Competition thus is tough, despite government attempts to silence the press.
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