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Has Senegal returned to media censorship?

The cutting off of the Walf TV signal raises the question of the creeping return of the policy of media censorship and control of press freedom, less than a year from the presidential election.

On February 10, 2023, the signal of the Senegalese private channel Walf TV was disconnected for seven days by National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA). The media is accused of having covered “irresponsibly” demonstrations in Mbacké (190 km from Dakar).

Indeed, violent demonstrations broke out after clashes between the police and supporters of opponent Ousmane Sonko, the latter having called for a meeting, despite his ban by the administrative authorities. However, without first resorting to administrative sanctions such as formal notice, the warning, as stipulated in the provisions of article 210 of the press code in Senegal in 2017, the regulatory body decided to temporarily cut off the signal and in the event of a recurrence, the media will be permanently closed. However, this is not the first time that Walf TV has been suspended. In 2012, during the time of President Abdoulaye Wade, the same media had been the subject of a notice.

The recent cut of the Walf TV signal by the Senegalese authorities raises the question of the creeping return of the policy of media censorship and control of press freedom, less than a year from thepresidential election 2024 which looks tense.

Grammar of censorship politics

Depending on the political regimes, circumstances and political contexts, the desire for regulation can turn out to be draconian for the media. It can also switch to censorship with the aim of reducing certain media to silence.

Before being an act, censorship is first of all discourse. The regulator's statement to Walf TV managers mobilizes several discourse procedures. First of all, there is a call to order. This suggests an educational and awareness-raising approach. The rest of the press release reads like the threat of a forced action, if necessary, if the media does not comply or does not obey the regulator's injunction to interrupt its programs for the duration indicated.

Also, the discourse of censorship appears here rather as an element of public power. Thus, it is clear that its vocation is not limited only to an open logic of intimidation of journalists in a politically sensitive context. But, it goes further and seems to confirm the will of the authorities to muzzle all the spaces of communication, escaping until then from their control.

The debate around the possibility or not of a third term for outgoing President Macky Sall, that of the candidacy of his main opponent Ousmane Sonko in view of his legal troubles are all lively questions that agitate the Senegalese public sphere. Just as they crystallize attention, including in the Senegalese diasporas.

Faced with these challenges, the media regulatory body intends to position itself as the sole arbiter of what the media must, can, or are called upon to disclose. This policy of framing all the discourse of the media may prove detrimental to the proper functioning of democracy, to the freedom of the press and of journalists. It can also lead to self-censorship by information professionals.

Media infiltration maneuvers

Long presented in sub-Saharan Africa as a model of democracy,Senegal has for some years presented a more contrasting face, especially with regard to public freedoms, in particular those of the press and those of expression. Modes of media governance have become refined and sophisticated over time.

In his book Senegal: The press under Macky Sall, democracy in danger , Fall Ngagne, essayist points out that the media are losing their freedom. The reasons for such a change are linked to the relations of complicity between power and press bosses. These media infiltration maneuvers by politicians are intended to engulf them in order to better subjugate them.

Considered yesterday as counter-powers, the Senegalese media nowadays are called upon to become allies of the power in place. In this case, censorship becomes partisan if the media outlets have to affiliate with a camp, especially that of the actors in power.

Questions around the regulatory body

The sanctions incurred by Walf TV raise questions about the mode of operation of the regulatory body. On what basis does it operate? On what level were the deliberations leading to the suspension of Walf TV carried out when the channel's journalists stress that they were not heard according to the adversarial principle?

In light of the decision to suspend Walf TV's signal, the imprisonment of certain journalists (such as Pope Ale Niang, director of the online newspaper Dakar Matin), one can logically wonder about the collective actions to be taken by the corporation in order to save the profession.

Despite these proven attacks on the freedom of the press and the exercise of audiovisual communication, the Union of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal (SYNPICS), one of whose missions is to defend the interests of its members, has more or less turned into a form of passivity. SYNPICS would benefit from being more active rather than producing releases and to draw inspiration from the Association of Online Press Professionals (APPEL), through the voice of its president Ibrahima Lissa Faye, who has been more vigorous in the denunciation of this "very worrying decision" for the safeguard of freedom of expression and the media in Senegal.

However, it is difficult to say in the current state of things whether this action by the Association of Online Press Professionals can cause the regulatory body to bend. However, responding to a policy of censorship requires the implementation and coordination of actions likely to promote joint action and involving all actors in the Senegalese media. This requires journalists to form a real community and share common interests.

Does corporatism prevent the profession from updating? One could wonder about the threats against the freedom of the press, a few months before the holding in Senegal of the next presidential election.

Simon Ngono, Lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences, University of Reunion

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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