World Report - Congo
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||October 2012|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, World Report - Congo, October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/509237f52.html [accessed 31 July 2014]|
- Area: 342,000 sq km
- Population: 4.3 million
- Language: French, Lingala and Kituba
- Head of state: Denis Sassou Nguesso from 1979 to 1991 and from 1997 until now
Although usually spared the worst forms of repression, the Congolese media are exposed to threats, intimidation and prosecution. Despite a law decriminalizing press offences, journalists fear reprisals and censor themselves. With corruption rife at the highest level in what is sub-Saharan Africa's fifth biggest oil producer, few dissident voices dare to challenge the president's authoritarian and nepotistic rule.
Since independence in 1960, the Republic of Congo has alternated between periods of relative stability and violent turmoil, including around 10 coups, armed clashes and political, economic and social unrest. Another tragedy struck when an arms depot in the centre of a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, Brazzaville, blew up on 4 March 2012, killing at least 150 people, according to official estimates. Although it was fairly well covered, certain aspects remain unexplained, reflecting the media's inability to fully investigate stories, get access to information and affix blame.
With a score of privately-owned TV stations, a similar number of newspapers and about 40 radio stations, the media landscape has a semblance of diversity. But the broadcast media are well advised not to criticize the government or invite opposition representatives to express their views.
The country's only daily, Les Dépêches de Brazzaville, is enthusiastic in its support for the government, unlike the biweekly Thalassa and the news website Mwinda. "Protected" by the fact that they have few readers and therefore little impact, the print media dare to cover misgovernance and corruption allegations involving the ruling United Democratic Forces coalition. But radio and TV stations, which have a much bigger audience, dare not follow suit.
While flagrant media freedom violations and violence against journalists are rare, insidious obstacles hold back the development of freely and independently reported news and information. Political pressure and "friendly advice" persuade many journalists to censor themselves or become less critical. A lack of professional training, meagre advertising revenue, the absence of any state assistance for the media and the constant threat of running out of funds complete the bleak picture.
The Higher Council for Communication Freedom, which regulates the media, has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the media profession and is often accused of conniving with the government. As soon his office had been redecorated after succeeding Jacques Bananganzala as the council's new president in June, Philippe Mwouo began like his predecessor to threaten the print media with severe sanctions.
Finally, a cloud has been hanging over Brazzaville since early 2009 -- the unexplained death of Bruno Jacquet-Ossébi, a journalist with dual French and Congolese nationality. Badly burned in a possibly accidental, possibly deliberate fire in his home that killed his wife and two daughters, he seemed to be recovering before suddenly dying in hospital 12 days later. Vital clues disappeared and no autopsy was carried out. His death remains a mystery.
The only known facts are that Jacquet-Ossébi wrote about corruption and embezzlement and had announced his intention to become a civil party to a complaint filed in Paris against President Nguesso and two other African presidents accusing them illegally of amassing property in France.
Updated in October 2012