Media flourish in ten years of Benin's democracy

Cotonou- Benin (PANA) -- Ten years following the National Conference that put Benin on the democratic trail, journalists can boast of nearly hundred press organs, the ministry of interior says.
With 18 daily and 41 periodical papers, five rural radio stations, 17 non commercial and nine commercial radio stations, one TV channel, the media landscape in Benin is almost totally run by private businesses after it was under state control since the 80s, the High Authority of the Audio-visual and Communication (HAAC) confirmed.
These organs, which were set up by journalists, business people or politicians, serve as major employers of graduates from the National University of Benin - who later get an on-the-spot training - and those of vocational schools in the subregion or abroad.
However, journalists in Benin are mostly over-employed and under-paid, and even accept any pay because they are often in search of their first job or they fear to be fired.
Many workers live in a precarious situation for lack of a collective convention and trade unions since the existing ten professional associations are mostly occupied with training and retraining manpower.
Abel Gbetoenonmon, coordinator of the Beninese Network of journalists specialised in economic issues, complained that because some 70 percent of reporters in Benin are not even paid, they are vulnerable to bribery from politicians in detriment to press freedom.
Though he recognised that press freedom is somewhat practised in Benin, Gbetoenonmon expressed fears that the nature of the laws governing the profession may "kill" such freedom.
Pierre Matchoudo, chief editor of the daily, Le matin, and specialist on press freedom in a democracy, observes that absolute freedom does not exist anywhere in the world.
He argues that everywhere, people talk about relative freedom.
In Benin like in any country in the world, journalists are rather under pressure from the government and business enterprises, he adds.
A press organ with an advertising contract from a financial group cannot objectively write in the disinterest of such a partner, he explained.
Matchado explained that the press may be succumbing to such pressures or self-censuring in order to secure its interests.
He also complained that lack of training, non-compliance of career ethics threaten journalism in Benin where 70 percent of the people take for granted anything the press reveals.
In spite of the constraints, the press in Benin is sometimes called the first estate due to its relevant analyses, though sometimes done in the breach of ethics.
Because it anxiously picks hot cases involving the government or politicians, people think the press to be the ruler of the country, sociologist Glegle Gisele observes.
However, journalists barely reveal information that may affect democracy and national development, which makes them the only reliable counter-power in a changing political system, political analysts say.
Meanwhile, HAAC and the Observatory of Ethics in the media as the guarantor of the respect of the rules governing the profession have helped to prevent journalists from going to jail.

27 april 2001 20:24:00

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