In the aftermath of independence and throughout the single-party period (1960-1990), social communication and freedom of expression were controlled by the authorities. Any independent press was strictly prohibited. By claiming to liberalise public life in 1990 under pressure from Paris, which now intended to make official development assistance conditional on democratic openness, a law was passed in 1992 to liberalise the media sector. Since then, progress has been made in citizens’ rights to information. Additional legal and regulatory frameworks have emerged. The first texts that regulated the media were laws N 98.005 of 1998, on the creation, organisation and functioning of the High Communication Council (HCC) and N 98.006 of 1998, on freedom of communication.
These two texts, which were considered as liberticidal by media professionals, were revised in 2002 and 2003. This is how laws N 03.002 on freedom of communication and N 03.003 on the creation, organisation and functioning of the HCC, were promulgated. Subsequently, Act N 03.002 of 2003 and Ordinance N 05.002 of 2005, amending the penalties for press offences, were also passed. These texts concern the right of communication in a broader sense.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by article 1, paragraph 2, of the Act of 14 January, 2003: "Freedom of communication and the pluralism of information, ideas and opinions are essential values in any democratic society." Article 1 stipulates that "freedom of communication is recognised and guaranteed by the Constitution." Moreover, article 3 of the Act stipulates that "limitations on the exercise of the freedom of communication may be justified only in the cases authorised by law.” In terms of digital communication, no law has been officially passed in the Central African Republic. In a statement of 2018, the Minister of Communication, promised a draft law on digital regulation, but this has not been put in place.
Despite this array of laws on freedom of expression and the decriminalisation of press offences, journalists in the Central African Republic continue to face political pressure, including harsh prison sentences. This was the case of Faustin Bamboo, editor of n independent weekly, charged in July 2011 with incitement to hatred and disorder among military forces and contempt of government. The same happened in January 2012 to Ferdinand Samba, Director of Le Démocrate, one of the four main daily newspapers in the country, who was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of CFA10m. The daily was suspended for one year. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed dismay at the case, especially because press offences have been decriminalised since 2005.
In March 2018, the President of the HCC José Richard Pouambi was summoned to appear in front of the Court of Auditors on 9 March, 2018 for a case concerning him, while he fiercely opposed President Touadera’s support for taking public media as their tools for abusive propaganda. This summons sounds like a disguised form of political pressure on the HCC in its battle against the ruling power.