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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56531c.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Zaire ostensibly began a transition to multi-party rule seven years ago, when President Mobutu Sese Seko gave in to the pro-democracy pressures that were sweeping the continent, and announced the end of the one-party state. Since that time, however, there have been more than 10 different governments appointed by Mobutu, and no transition. But in September 1996, a rebellion began in the eastern part of the country and then spread, ultimately leading to the formation of a rebel coalition headed by Laurent Kabila and reportedly backed by neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. By mid-February, a panicky Zairian cabinet had banned all public demonstrations and introduced strict censorship guidelines to quash coverage of the rebellion by the state-owned and private press.

Angered by television footage showing Kabila speaking to cheering crowds in eastern Zaire, Information Minister Kin Kiey Mulumba on February 15 issued a decree banning private radio and television stations from airing political programs and news. Journalists were also banned from publishing information coming from sources other than the Ministry of Defense on the conflicts in eastern Zaire.

In April, angered by reports in the foreign press of the steadily mounting crisis, the Minister of Information announced restrictive measures requiring the reaccreditation of all journalists and the creation of an ethics committee. After eight months of fighting his way across the country, Kabila seized Kinshasa on May 17 and declared himself president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Mobutu fled the country for Morocco, only to die of prostate cancer there in August.

In the days following Kabila's victory, much of the staff of public radio and television station OZRT were fired or given off-air assignments, and on May 26, shortly after the new government was formed, the new information minister, Raphael Ghenda, announced a ban on advertising on private radio and television stations. On June 17, state radio reported that the government planned to nationalize the private television network Tele Kin Malebo and take up to 40-percent shares in all the private non-religious television and radio stations. The year ended with Ghenda's announcement that FM stations could no longer rebroadcast programs from foreign broadcasters, who had been a significant source of news for the population.

Dozens of daily newspapers exist in Kinshasa, but only a small percentage of the literate population read them, and few reach the interior. The government owns the national radio and television networks, but reception of both is limited largely to the capital. Regional radio and television stations are tightly controlled by the regional authorities, although private radio and television are developing.

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