On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day and as we celebrate 30 years of the Constitution this year, we take time to reflect on the development of press and media rights over the last three decades and how the Courts have been instrumental in protecting press freedom.
Seychelles has experienced a significant evolution of press freedom since its independence from Britain in 1976.
During the early years of Seychelles’ independence, the government had a tight grip on the media. Since then, the country has made significant strides towards media liberalization by allowing the establishment of privately owned newspapers and radio stations. This move led to the birth of the first private newspaper, Regar, which was founded in 1993. The government also decriminalized defamation, which had been used to silence journalists critical of the government.
The Constitution of Seychelles, which came into force in 1993, has guaranteed press freedom and the right to free expression since its adoption.
Article 15 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media. It also provides for the right to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. This constitutional provision has served as the basis for the protection of press freedom in Seychelles.
The Constitution also establishes an independent Judiciary, which has been instrumental in upholding press freedom. The Judiciary has often ruled in favor of journalists and media outlets in cases where their freedom of expression has been challenged or threatened.
There have been several court cases in Seychelles where the courts have ruled in favor of journalists or media outlets, upholding their right to freedom of expression and press freedom:
- Regar Newspaper vs. Attorney General (1999): Regar Newspaper, the first privately owned newspaper in Seychelles, was sued by the Attorney General for publishing an article critical of the government. The court ruled in favor of the newspaper, stating that the article was within the bounds of freedom of expression and press freedom.
- Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation vs. Michel Jules (2002): Michel Jules, a former journalist with the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), was fired for reporting on a story critical of the government. Jules sued the SBC for wrongful termination, and the court ruled in his favor, stating that he had been fired for exercising his right to freedom of expression and press freedom.
- Rassin Vannier vs. Seychelles Nation (2008): Rassin Vannier, a journalist with the Seychelles Nation newspaper, was sued by a government official for publishing an article critical of the government’s handling of a public project. The court ruled in favor of Vannier, stating that he had a right to freedom of expression and that the article was in the public interest.
- Le Seychellois vs. Attorney General (2010): Le Seychellois, a weekly newspaper, was sued by the Attorney General for publishing an article critical of the government’s handling of a land sale. The court ruled in favor of the newspaper, stating that the article was protected by freedom of expression and press freedom.
These court cases demonstrate that Seychelles’ Judiciary has been willing to uphold press freedom and freedom of expression, even when it means ruling against the government. This has been instrumental in ensuring that journalists and media outlets can operate freely and report on issues of public interest without fear of reprisals.
In 2021, Seychelles was ranked 63rd out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, an improvement from its 2016 ranking of 103rd.
Seychelles has also passed several laws that protect and promote press freedom. The Access to Information Act, passed in 2018, guarantees the right of citizens to access public information held by government agencies. The Seychelles Media Commission Act, also passed in 2018, established an independent regulatory body to oversee the media sector and ensure ethical standards.
Overall, the Judiciary of Seychelles has been a key factor in protecting press freedom in the country and will continue to do so.