With attacks on journalists and media continuing in the final run-up to the 28 November presidential and parliamentary elections and an opposition parliamentarian’s murder in Kinshasa adding to the tension, Reporters Without Borders appeals again to all parties to do their best to ensure that the elections are not marred by violence and that media freedom is respected.
“The initial results of the media monitoring by Journalist in Danger, our local partner organization, are quite clear,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They show beyond any doubt that, as well as attacks on journalists and repeated closures of news outlets, many media are being turned into propaganda tools, thereby heightening the tension in a climate that has already worsened dramatically in recent weeks.
“In the light of this disturbing assessment just a few days before the polls, we reiterate our appeal to all sectors of Congolese society and political life to do their utmost to ensure that the next week passes off as calmly as possible. We remind the authorities that respect for the independence of the media and journalists is essential if proper elections are to be held.”
Media closed, journalists targeted
Ernest Miyambo, the administrator of Kabambare (in the east-central province of Maniema) ordered the closure of Radio Communautaire Tujenge Kabambare (RCTK) on 18 November, thereby usurping a prerogative of the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC), which alone has the power to take such decisions.
The closure was prompted by the broadcast of an interview with the leader of a former armed self-defence group which Miyambo called an “incitement to revolt.” He also ordered the arrest of RCTK manager Kabuana Mukelenge, who has gone into hiding.
The CSAC suspended all broadcasts by Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV) from 7 to 15 November for broadcasting controversial statements by opposition presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi, who declared himself already president and called on his supporters to “break down the gates of the prisons.”
Five radio stations based in the southeastern province of Katanga – Radio Télé Jedidja (RTJ), Radio Fondation Thérèse Lukenge Kapuibwe, Radio Communautaire de Kapolowe, Radio Rocher du Salut and Radio Plein Evangile – were closed without prior warning on 18 November by Brigitte Luta, the administrator of Kambove.
It turned out that the closure order was issued by Mulanya Ilunga, the head of the provincial communications and media department, on the grounds that none of them had paid the required 15,000 US dollars for a broadcasting licence. Representatives of each of the stations had been summoned on 17 November and asked to pay this sum without delay.
Most Congolese community radio stations cannot afford to pay for a licence and continue operating regardless. This does not seem to have been the best moment to close them down in such a summary manner, given the imminence of the elections and the local population’s interest in their electoral coverage.
Aside from the closure of local news outlets, some international media may also find themselves prevented from covering the elections because the authorities refuse to give them visas or fail to issue them in time. The regional newsweekly Jeune Afrique reported in an editorial on 20 November that it has been unable to send someone to cover the elections for this reason. The Congolese authorities have denied preventing Jeune Afrique from entering the country.
Attacks and security threats
As well as administrative sanctions violating media freedom, journalists are also exposed to serious security problems. Antoine Tshiyenge of Jua TV, a station based in the Katangan capital of Lubumbashi, was beaten up by members of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) on 14 November when he responded to an invitation to cover a demonstration by several parliamentarians at the party’s headquarters. He said they attacked him after identifying him as Jua TV reporter.
The day before, one of his colleagues, Junior Nyembwe, was beaten up by members of UNAFEC, a party allied with the PPRD, while covering a rally at the Vita Club football club. Jua TV cameraman Freddy Kalume had previously been attacked and beaten on 7 November by angry PPRD supporters, who took his camera.
In a response to the decline in security conditions for the media, around 100 vests with the word “PRESS” have been distributed to journalists by Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger (JED). Journalists are often collateral victims when force is used to disperse the demonstrations they are covering, and the vests aim to make them more easily identifiable to the security forces. Examples of the vest were formally presented to the police inspector general at a ceremony today in Kinshasa.
According to the initial findings of JED’s media monitoring during the election campaign in Kinshasa, TV coverage is “flagrantly biased” in favour of the candidates of the parties with which the TV stations are variously identified, and is characterized by “frenetic propaganda” and statements bordering on “incitement of hatred and violence.”
JED appealed to the CSAC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on 18 November to caution the media against becoming propaganda tools and straying from their core mission to provide information.
Photo : Official presentation of the vests by JED in Kinshasa on Nov 24th.