Despite a bloated media landscape, state media still struggle to provide public service information in Togo. The degree of press freedom depends on the political environment.
With 234 newspapers and magazines, 94 radio stations and a dozen television channels, Togo has a rich media landscape. The privately owned daily Liberté is one of the most widely read newspapers, while the bi-weeklies L'Alternative and L’Union pour la Patrie are also well respected. The only state-owned television network, Télévision Togolaise (TVT), has the most viewers. Despite the abundant media landscape and the emergence of new online news sites, few operate without any political influence. Liberté was suspended for a month in early 2023 and L’Alternative remains in the authorities’ sights.
The press freedom situation depends on the political environment. During election campaigns, self-censorship is widely practiced by journalists, who are subject to pressure from both the government and the opposition. The government and politicians exercise a great deal of influence over how news is handled. The ruling party appoints and can dismiss all directors of state-owned media, as well as the president of the media regulatory agency.
Freedom of the press is recognised and guaranteed by the state. Violations of the press law have not been punishable by imprisonment since 2004, but the law is often bypassed when senior politicians are named in articles. A law adopted in 2020 guarantees journalistic independence and access to information, as long as “defense secrets” are respected. Nonetheless, information is still difficult for journalists to access, especially those working for privately owned media outlets and those who criticise the authorities, and especially when the information concerns the government.
Togo’s media are facing major financial problems, which foster corruption and prevent them from operating freely and independently. It is easy to create a news website or newspaper but it is much more complicated to launch a radio station or TV channel. The Togolese Media Observatory, a moral authority at the highest regulatory level, does not have the funding to be genuinely effective.
While journalists can cover most social issues without fear of reprisals, they prefer to avoid topics regarded as taboo, such as corruption, military affairs, and the president and his family.
Journalists’ safety remains a concern in Togo, especially for those who investigate corruption or the government’s actions. They may suffer direct and significant retaliation, as seen in March 2023, when international arrest warrants were issued for two journalists after they were convicted in absentia of “contempt of authority”. Journalists are often pressured or offered benefits to toe the government line. If they resist, they come under close scrutiny, as the Pegasus spyware revelations highlighted. The possibility of a media outlet being suspended or closed is a constant threat for journalists.