Freedom of the Press - Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) (2007)
|Publication Date||2 May 2007|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) (2007), 2 May 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/478cd510c.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 24 (of 30)
Political Environment: 32 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 24 (of 30)
Total Score: 80 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but these rights are limited in practice by President Joseph Kabila's government and various nonstate actors. Officials used an array of prohibitive licensing and criminal libel laws to restrict free speech and suppress political criticism by imprisoning journalists under the country's repressive defamation laws, shutting down broadcast operations, and seizing copies of newspapers critical of the authorities. Several Congolese journalists spent time in jail in 2006, including a newspaper publisher in the capital, Kinshasa, who was arrested in November 2005 and held for nine months on charges of publishing "false rumors," insulting the head of state, and "insulting the government." Patrice Booto was finally freed after being sentenced to six months in jail and a fine, but many such cases never go to court. Local media outlets are also subject to regulation by the High Authority on Media (HAM), a public agency created under the 2002 peace accords that formally ended the civil war within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The agency's mandate is to ensure freedom of expression, but it has the authority to temporarily suspend media outlets for hate speech and other serious ethical transgressions. The HAM targeted several media outlets owned by politicians opposed to Kabila in 2006, prompting allegations that the sanctions were politically motivated.
Multiparty presidential elections were held on July 30, 2006, for the first time since independence from Belgium in 1960. Kabila, who had led the country's transitional government since 2002, won in an October runoff against his main rival, former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. During the preelectoral period, journalists faced physical abuse, imprisonment, and threats from all parties to the country's debilitating internal strife. Instances of harassment and physical intimidation of journalists were particularly severe in the eastern Ituri, Kivu, and Kasai provinces, where the central government exercises little control and armed groups continue to terrorize journalists and the civilian population. On July 8, unidentified gunmen killed Bapuwa Mwamba, a Congolese journalist who worked for several local publications, in his home in Kinshasa. Authorities charged a soldier and two civilians in connection with the murder, saying that Mwamba was killed in an attempted robbery; however, the local press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) ruled out robbery as a motive based on their own investigation. In July, the government expelled a respected Radio France Internationale correspondent after repeatedly denying her accreditation to cover the elections. In a earlier sign of pressure on the media ahead of the elections, on 16 April, 40 men entered a station owned by the Congo National Radio and Television (RTNC) in Butembo province and destroyed its capacity to broadcast. The trial of three soldiers accused of murdering another prominent journalist in November 2005 began in July but remained unresolved at year's end, and members of JED reported that they had received threats in connection with their inquiry into the incident.
The people of the DRC are largely illiterate and depend upon radio broadcasts for the news. Nonetheless, many private newspapers exist, and although not always objective, they are often able to be highly critical of the government. Multiple privately owned radio and television stations also operate in tandem with two state-owned radio stations as well as a state-owned television station. The state-owned broadcasters operate with a pro-government bias but permit other major political parties represented in the transitional government to gain access to airtime. Together with the Swiss-funded Fondation Hirondelle, MONUC operates an independent countrywide radio network, Radio Okapi, which has set new standards for reporting and media objectivity in a volatile political scene. Journalists in all major media outlets are usually poorly paid and lack sufficient training, making them vulnerable to bribery and political manipulation. The government refrains from any overt internet censorship. However, only a tiny portion of the population (less than 0.5 percent) was able to access the internet owing to financial constraints and the volatile political situation.