- The parliament of Chad this week voted against government's proposed media law, which would have included prison terms for journalists "insulting the President."
The N'djamena National Assembly decided to reject a print media bill that had been presented by the government. The bill was to have replaced Decree No. 5, which President Idriss Debut issued on 20 February 2008, the day after the launch of a rebel offensive on the capital.
Chad's parliament voted on two bills during its last plenary session. The first bill, on the broadcast media, was adopted. The second bill, on the print media, presented by Mahamat Saleh Malloum of the government Committee on Communication, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, was rejected by 31 against, 23 votes for and 18 abstentions.
The print media bill would have shortened the prison sentences allowed under Decree No. 5 but would not have eliminated them. Press offences punishable by two months to 5 years in prison would have been punishable by one to three months under the bill. It also envisaged the special offence of "insulting the president" and granted much power to the High Council for Communication (HCC), the media regulatory body.
A national conference on the media and communication held early in 2009 urged the government to repeal Decree No. 5 altogether and to set about amending the more liberal Law No. 29 of 1994. But the government ignored its recommendations and instead submitted its print media bill. As a result of the bill's rejection, Decree No. 5 is no longer in force and Law No. 29 of 1994 is reinstated.
Led by the Union of Chadian journalists (UJT), organisations that defend journalists had been very critical of the bill and the government's attempt to get it adopted by means of an emergency procedure, without any debate.
"The problem was the method used by the government," UJT president Evariste Ngarlem Toldé commented. "The government wanted to force it through. We are pleased that the parliamentarians rejected the bill."
"But the battle is far from won," Mr Toldé added. "The National Assembly passed a special powers act the same day. It allows the government to adopt any bill by decree from 3 June to 4 October. We fear the government will use this provision to quickly come back with a new bill before October. We must get down to work with the National Assembly and other Chadian organisations to propose a new, consensus bill to the government."
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today supported colleagues from Chad's UJT. "The adoption of a new press law is overdue because Chad's journalists have been operating for more than two years under a very repressive decree issued in exceptional circumstances," RSF said in a statement.
"We nonetheless welcome the National Assembly's rejection of this bill, which consisted of just superficial improvements to Decree No. 5 and still envisaged prison sentences for journalists," RSF added, urging Chadian authorities "to move resolutely ahead on the decriminalisation of press offences and to give priority to dialogue with organisations that defend journalists in order to reach a consensus on a new bill that will meet with the National Assembly's approval."
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