The developments of new communication technologies, the liberalisation of the media market and the popularisation of Internet connectivity, have brought significant progress to the media sector of the Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked country with a population of about 5 million. However, this rapid evolution of the media market has had its drawbacks. Some private companies of the so-called traditional media, not having prepared for this change, were therefore forced to play a peripheral role or simply to shut down.
Since independence in 1960, radio is the national media with the highest audience and market share. Thanks to the low acquisition cost of receivers and the fact that their use does not require particular skills, radio plays an important role in the daily life of the Central African people. In addition to linking rural and urban areas, it affects virtually all social strata of the country. Moreover, politicians, whether from the majority or the opposition, use it regularly to reach the rural population.
Television, which is largely dependent on electricity, is still perceived as a luxury media reserved for the wealthy and middle classes who can afford alternatives to public electricity, known for its constant disconnection. Television appeared in the early 1970s and has often been linked to the ruling government. It only reaches a tiny part of the Central African population, mostly located in the capital Bangui. Also the written press, which emerged as a new media player in the 1990s, only covers part of the capital. Nevertheless, its appearance has made it possible to free up the media landscape and force the country’s leaders to become more accountable for their actions. Due to structurally weak readership, low circulation, scarce investments and low economic profitability, print media companies have not been able to establish themselves as reference media accessible to the general public.
Online media began to be visible in the early 2000s through static blogs and surpassed radio in less than 15 years, thanks to the popularisation of mobile Internet and the phenomenon of social networks. Central Africans, anxious to be updated minute by minute, particularly about local news, are very quickly turning to online media for information.
Traditional media, especially print, radio and TV suffer from a chronic lack of visibility on the Internet and are giving way to various private blogs dealing with national and international news on an ongoing basis. However, the lack of funding and professionalism of online media leads Central Africans to be considerably suspicious of the reliability of the information they circulate, despite their growing interest.
Before the 1990s, public audiovisual media, which monopolised the media market, were subject to political pressure from the current regime, while private media, mainly the written press, were considered as an instrument of counter-power and democracy. They had appeared in the national media landscape after the famous speech of the French President François Mitterrand in the city of La Baule, on 20 June, 1990, calling on African leaders, particularly those in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, to orient themselves more towards the principles of democracy and freedom of expression. From that time, the practice of journalism evolved considerably in the CAR. From the cult of personality and state propaganda to critical, divergent or even engaged narratives, media content has changed and is much more oriented towards the concerns of the population.
In the field of citizens’ rights to information, significant progress has been made after many years of democratic experience. Legal and regulatory frameworks have emerged. The first texts regulating the media were law N 98.005 of 1998 (on the creation, organisation and functioning of the High Communication Council) and law N 98.006 of 1998 (on the freedom of communication). These two texts, considered as liberticidal by media professionals, were revised in 2003. Thus, laws N 03.002, relating to freedom of communication and N 03.003 of 2003 on the creation, organisation and functioning of the High Communication Council were promulgated. With the promulgation of the new laws on freedom of the press, including Ordinance N 05.002 of 2005, there has been a second emergence of independent private media outlets in the country. Many of these entities appeared without fulfilling all the provisions of the 2005 legislation. In addition to their embryonic state, it should be stressed that they lack material, human and financial resources. This means that even though they are officially recognised, these publishers are not easily traceable. They have no fixed offices, or a newsroom where they can be found. They walk around the streets looking for events to cover from which they could earn some money. That said, their primary goal is to generate revenue and not to inform. That is why they are sometimes called "okra journalists" in Bangui, meaning they are constantly searching for something to eat. The corollary of this phenomenon is the public’s contempt for media professionals in general and for print media in particular.